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Woodward investigation cost Bainbridge school district $14k
The investigation into worries that lunchtime volunteers at Woodward Middle School were sharing their religious beliefs with students will cost the district more than $14,000.
Parents of some students at Woodward Middle School raised concerns with the Bainbridge Island School Board in October about youth pastors who had volunteered at the middle school during lunch. District officials hired Tacoma attorney Shawn Ann Flood to investigate whether the youth pastors had been using their volunteer time at the school to convert students to their faith or talk about God and Jesus.
In Flood's report on the investigation, Flood said she did not find evidence that youth pastors who had volunteered were using their lunchroom time to promote religion or proselytize.
Even so, district officials announced earlier this month that the district would no longer allow non-paid volunteers at Woodward Middle School.
At the school board meeting on Dec. 12, the board unanimously accepted the results of the investigation. They also heard a recommendation from staff to revise and update the school district's volunteer policies and procedures.
Those changes will be made in January.
Also next month, the district will start using paid staff for lunchtime supervision at Woodward.
District officials expect to revise the volunteer handbook and volunteer forms in February, and also identify what training is necessary for volunteers and develop a plan and timeline for training.
The investigation into the volunteers was extensive, according to billing records submitted by the attorney leading the investigation. The records were provided to the Review following a public records request.
Flood was paid $260 an hour for her work, and billed the district for $14,382 after the close of her investigation in early December.
An account statement shows Flood spent more than 54 hours on the investigation, and on six separate days interviewed students, parents and others in person or on the telephone.
Much of investigation was completed in October.
Flood came to Bainbridge Island on Oct. 8 and interviewed parents during her first 12-hour day on the case. She returned on Oct. 10 and interviewed parents, pastors, students and staff during another workday that stretched past 12 hours.
More interviews with students followed on Oct. 11 and throughout the following week.
In her final report, Flood noted that the lunchtime volunteer program at Woodward has been in place for at least 10 years, and was started before the current administration were assigned to the school.
A youth pastor for a local Christian church volunteered to help supervise in the lunchroom about seven or eight years ago, Flood said, and volunteered for about two years.
Four years ago, the new youth pastor from the same church asked to volunteer at Woodward and was assigned to help supervise the lunchroom. That pastor, who was not a parent of a student at Woodward, has volunteered about once a week on a regular basis since the 2010-2011 school year, Flood found.
Two other youth pastors from a different church on Bainbridge also volunteered for lunchroom supervision duty at Woodward during the 2012-2013 school year and they helped out about once a week for two to three months. The pair also were not parents to any students at Woodward.
Flood said it did not appear the youth pastors were promoting religion at the school.
"I find that on the whole, youth pastors volunteering in the lunchroom did not use their time and access to students to promote religion or convert students to their faith," Flood wrote in her report. "I find no evidence that youth pastors engaged in prayer with students, blessings over meals, Bible study, distribution of Bibles or religious literature, discussions about God or Jesus, or preaching in general."
Flood did note two incidents; one where a pastor said a student who was a member of his church approached him with religious questions, and another incident where a student new to the school was sitting alone at a lunch table and a youth pastor told him he could find him if he ever wanted to talk about religion.
In the second instance, Flood said the student never approached the pastor at a later time to talk about religion.
Peter Bang-Knudsen, assistant superintendent of administrative services, said the investigation was independent and thorough.
"The district feels confident that this was a thorough and objective third-party investigation," Bang-Knudsen said. "Our hope is that this report will help the community understand what occurred and move forward with solutions as outlined on the Bainbridge Island School District website."
The school board will get another update on next steps on its volunteer procedures on Jan. 9, he added.