KIRKWOOD, Mo. — Parmela Plein remembers the community where she grew up as safe.
Kirkwood in the 1980s, she said, was a place where she could exercise her independence without being in danger. She had a passion for music. “From the age of 9 I was very focused on classical music,” she said.
A few years later that passion brought her to Kirkwood High School as a freshman. In an environment where Plein was supposed to learn and grow, she says one teacher had other motivations.
“The types of things he would do would be to hug me from behind,” she says, “pulling me in close, telling me a joke that now I realize was inappropriate, not the kinds of things that an adult would find funny to share with a child.”
Plein said, eventually, the teacher started showing her pornographic cartoons.
“Thinking back I think it was to gauge my reaction, and my interest, or lack of interest,” she remembered. “He would sit next to me on the school bus,” she added, “just too much attention.”
Plein did not bring her concerns to the school’s administration at the time. She thought that the teacher’s interest was intended to help her.
“When I realized, at the start of my senior year, that this interaction or relationship is very inappropriate and I no longer wanted any part of it,” said Plein. She asked for a letter of recommendation from the teacher as she looked at going on to college. Her request was denied.
Recently, Plein said, she started working through her experiences from more than 30 years ago.
“It’s not that I forgot it, but I had kind of pushed it aside,” said Plein. Part of healing, she added, was “accepting that I was not at fault. I was a child, and therefore it was not my responsibility to speak up or stand up against it. It was the responsibility of the adults around me.”
This week, Plein saw a post on the Kirkwood High School Alumni Facebook page. There was another former student telling her story, recounting abuse by another teacher at a different time, but within the same school.
“It really resonated with me and I felt compelled to share mine in support of her. I had no idea sadly that there would be so many other women, who would also sort of spontaneously, it seems, share their stories,” said Plein. “I had no idea, until yesterday, that it was so widespread.”
On a public Facebook group, alumni have been sharing their accounts of abuse or assaults by faculty at Kirkwood High School involving at least three teachers from the 1980s through the year 2000. Accounts from those former students indicate that many of them had similar experiences with the same teachers.
Numerous group members stepping forward say that they reported their incidents to administration, but that their concerns were not heard. Some accounts claim that the teachers they accused were later allowed to resign quietly rather than face police or state licensing investigation. One victim says that her abuser went on to teach at a community college.
Group members wrote that some Facebook posts featuring the full accounts of victims, starting around July 7, were deleted by page managers.
The post that kicked it off was written by Katie Pappageorge. She recounted her experience with a teacher at Kirkwood High School in the 1990s. She told 5 On Your Side it wasn’t even the first time she tried to share her account on the alumni Facebook page. She said that she tried to post about it a few years ago, when she saw the man she accuses of raping her continuing to teach in the St. Louis area.
At the time, she and two other students filed a police report, she recalled.
It started innocently enough, she remembered, with an offer to work outside of class.
“He started meeting privately with me. He said, I think it's just a matter of confidence. Let's work one on one,” she said.
After a while, Pappageorge said, the relationship became sexual in nature.
“This took up all of my time and nobody knew it was happening,” said Pappageorge. “There's no way that a relationship with that age with a teacher can ever be consensual.”
From Pappageorge’s outreach to other Kirkwood alumni, she said that at least five other students told her they were abused by the same teacher. One day in January of 1998, the teacher was no where to be found. She'd find out years later that another female student, who had already graduated, reported the teacher to the school board. She said the teacher was allowed to resign quietly.
“I thought, no, this is, this isn't someone who's going to respond to anything but consequences,” said Pappageorge. “I felt conflicted all these years because he is one of my favorite teachers, you know, I did consider him a mentor.”
In response to questions about the accounts from students on the alumni Facebook page, Kirkwood superintendent Dr. David Ulrich wrote the following:
“The Kirkwood School District takes these allegations very seriously, and we are reviewing the matters. We encourage those who have stepped forward to contact the authorities. The Kirkwood School District is in contact with the Kirkwood Police Department as well.”
People with additional information or who would like to file a police report can contact the Kirkwood Police Department at 314-822-5858.
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