The RCMP is investigating additional reports of abuse at Hidden Valley, over a year after an education assistant was charged with sexual interference of a student.
The new information follows an outcry from parents at the school, who were not informed of the incident at the time of the original investigation by the school administration or the Department of Education.
“At first I was appalled and felt disgusted. Now I’m confused. Why aren’t you owning up to this and helping us and helping the parents that don’t even know about it still?” said Jennifer Kiess, whose daughter attends the school.
“They can’t protect themselves. They don’t necessarily speak out about it,” she said. “These are the most important people in our lives. These children are our future. And yet, we’re not doing our due diligence. And that’s really sad.”
Kiess and other parents at the school only found out about the conviction of the staff member after local media reported on a civil lawsuit launched by the guardian of the victim.
RCMP told the News in a statement that the investigation is ongoing, due to additional families coming forward after the situation was made public.
“I really do want accountability. I want somebody to stand up and be like, ‘Hey, yeah, I messed up. I was wrong.’ I think that would go a long way,” she said. “We need to change policies like this so that it can’t happen again.”
Kiess, stepping forward on behalf of around 40 upset parents, sent a letter to Education Minister Jeanie McLean on July 29, questioning why parents had not been notified.
She waited a week for a response.
In the meantime, she said parents affected by the news have been “drowning.” With no support or counselling offered, they have turned to the internet for advice on how to broach the topic with their children in a sensitive way.
Education Minister Jeanie McLean responded to Kiess’s email on Aug. 5.
“This is a very concerning situation that the Department of Education takes extremely seriously,” wrote McLean, advising parents who need support to contact the RCMP.
She said additional support for students will be implemented at the school as classrooms return to teaching later this month.
“The Government of Yukon Department of Education is currently a respondent in a civil legal matter related to this situation. I also understand there may be open RCMP investigations about the matter. As a result, I am unfortunately not in a position to answer many of your questions. I understand the frustration this may cause, and I share that frustration. Nevertheless, I have a responsibility to avoid any actions that would jeopardize the outcome of these important legal processes,” she continued.
The News spoke to one parent, whose special needs child attends Hidden Valley and regularly saw the school’s educational assistants.
He described shock and outrage that neither police nor school officials ever spoke to their family to make sure their child was not affected.
“I would assume that you would say, ‘Okay, now, what other children would they have had any kind of close contact with?’ And were there any behavioral changes? Because communication could be an issue with these children? And did their parents notice anything? Crickets. Nothing,” he said. “They didn’t do the investigation properly in the first place.”
“This is my life. [My child is] my life. And [they] need extra help. So I’m extra attentive and extra careful. You don’t treat a parent of someone who could have been a victim with silence, and then they find out a year and a half later. It’s wrong,” he said.
The News is not identifying the parent in order to protect the privacy of those involved.
The Yukon Government is now facing a lawsuit from the father of the student who was assaulted in the 2019-2020 school year.
The lawsuit, aimed at the convicted perpetrator and the government, is claiming psychological harm and a failure to protect the student, who was six-years-old at the time of the incident. The abuser was charged on Dec. 2, 2019 and later convicted and sentenced to six months in jail.
The Yukon Government has used the ongoing civil lawsuit as a reason to avoid addressing the topic.
On Wednesday, reporters who asked the education minister why parents had not been informed were told it was a “matter that is before the courts” despite the questions asked not referring to the civil case.
Follow-up questions resulted in the press conference being abruptly ended by officials, and reporters muted, without further answers.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org