KIRKWOOD, Mo. — For weeks the I-Team has been uncovering claim after claim of teachers sexually abusing students at Kirkwood High School.
Now two former Kirkwood teachers break their silence about what they saw, and how their own experiences with sexual abuse were handled at the school.
Investigative reporter PJ Randhawa shares why they're standing by survivors and urging school leaders to do better.
Spring Break and The Chaperone
“Back then, the high school would sponsor trips during spring break,” said Jane, a Kirkwood High School graduate from the class of 1977. She asked 5 On Your Side to not use her name to protect her privacy.
“We had one chaperone and it was a bus load like, you know, a Greyhound bus of students,” said Jane. “I want to say he was a teacher. I, I don't remember. But he was part of the school district.”
Jane says a few days into the trip to St. Petersburg, Florida, she passed out from sun poisoning. She was taken to a doctor, and given medicated cream for her blisters.
“[The chaperone] brought me back to the hotel and were we were waiting for to go upstairs,” said Jane.
That’s when she says a district employee assaulted her.
“He started rubbing lotion on me, my legs, the inside of my thighs, and proceeded with his hands to go further. I'm frozen. Absolutely frozen,” said Jane. “He said 'that must feel really good'.”
Jane says her friend witnessed the encounter, and expressed her discomfort with what she witnessed. But Jane never reported what happened.
“Oh, I think about it. I think about it a lot. You're so young when it happens that you live with the shame because ‘It's my fault. He was nice to me’,” said Jane.
Years later- Jane started a family and became a teacher.
She moved back to Kirkwood eventually took a job in the Kirkwood School District.
“The elementary schools are just so above average,” said Jane who enrolled her children in the district as well.
She says her daughter was enrolled at Kirkwood High School when she learned history had repeated.
“I will say that i had a daughter who was grossly, grossly assaulted,” said Jane.
She was devastated. The incident involved several students, but no staff.
“I went to administration about it and I was asked to refrain from doing any legal or consequential action until after the football season was over,” said Jane.
Jane says the schools response left her furious.
“You trust when you go to an administrator or principal that with a problem that they're going to help you find a solution. It never happened. Never happened,” said Jane.
“Kirkwood has a reputation and I’m sure the district wants to protect that reputation,” said Sharon Taysi, a Kirkwood High School teacher for 30 years. She says she often felt administrators protected staff, despite the cost to students.
Teachers heard rumors
“Inappropriate sexual contact with students. Those were the rumors. There were teachers who were dismissed for these allegations, but they never made the news. That did bother me,” said Taysi.
“Most of the teachers knew, you know, knew what was going on up at the high school,” said Jane.
Taysi is speaking out because she herself is a survivor of childhood molestation. She also taught some of the students who have come forward about alleged abuse they endured at the hands of former Kirkwood Teachers.
“Unfortunately however this was taken care of by the school or the district, students were hurt and something needs to be done,” said Taysi, who a few years ago.
Jane, meantime, quit teaching.
Neither she, nor her daughter ever saw their abusers face any consequence.
She hopes by sharing their stories, things will be different for the next student who comes forward
“You're too young to realize it's a predator, you know? And you live with the shame. It wasn't until I was 40 years old and in therapy that was finally, finally able to say it wasn't my fault,” said Jane.
“There needs to be more education, more education for students, for teachers and obviously more education for administrators,” said Taysi.
On Friday, Ginger Cayce, a district spokesperson sent us the following statement in regard to the latest allegations of abuse:
"We continue to take these allegations very seriously. We ask our alumni, students, staff, and families to report any abuse, misconduct, or inappropriate behavior by any current or former KSD staff member to contact us at kirkwoodschools.org/report or call the Human Resources 314.213.6100, ext. 7804
As we previously announced, we are committed to securing an independent assessment and investigation of the culture and climate within our schools and the District related to the reporting and handling of allegations of sexual abuse, misconduct, and inappropriate behavior. We recently posted a request for proposal to hire an outside group to conduct an independent review, and a recommendation will be made at the next scheduled Board meeting on August 31 for Board review and approval."
Resources for survivors
The Kirkwood School District is encouraging anyone who may have information to contact the Kirkwood Police Department.
The district is also offering counseling services to survivors. You can find out more here: https://www.kirkwoodschools.org/site/default
In addition, a district spokesperson sent us a copy of a letter that was sent to all Kirkwood School District families Friday:
Dear KSD Families,
Earlier this summer, allegations related to staff misconduct from the past were posted on the KHS Alumni Facebook page. We are taking these allegations very seriously. We asked our alumni and anyone else who had information related to abuse, misconduct, or inappropriate behavior by any current or former KSD staff member to contact us. We also are offering counseling services to survivors.
Several recent allegations have been reported. We are following policies with respect to the allegations received. These policies provide clear direction for investigation and can lead to administrative leave and termination of employment.
After receiving these allegations, we thought it imperative to email all families, as well, to ensure that everyone received complete and correct reporting information. We are here to educate and protect children. The practices and policies we have in place exist so students will know their rights and how to report abuse, misconduct, or other inappropriate behavior. A list of those resources is located online at kirkwoodschools.org/report. Please share them with your students this summer.
Students or employees coming forward to report an allegation have absolute protection against retaliation. If you or your student have any concerns about the behavior of a staff member, information or statements can be given via online form, email, or call:
Dr. Howard Fields, assistant superintendent of human resources
314.213.6100, ext. 7804
Ms. Cindi Nelson, director of human resources
314.213.6100 ext. 7809
If you file a form or communicate directly with Dr. Fields or Ms. Nelson, it is important to provide as much information as possible, so we can conduct a thorough investigation and implement the appropriate response. We also encourage you to contact the local police department.
The safety of our students is our top priority.
Dr. David Ulrich
Superintendent of Schools