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Fund established for accused educator
In the weeks since a Bainbridge High School teachers’ aide was charged with abusing a teenage girl, friends of the longtime islander have been voicing their support, and a legal fund has been established.
Stephen Buitenveld, 62, is accused of sexually touching a 17-year-old student with mental disabilities at the Aquatic Center on June 11. He was arrested by Bainbridge Police the next day and charged with a single count of felony indecent liberties in Kitsap Superior Court on June 17.
The arrest shocked many of Buitenveld’s friends and colleagues, who say they know he and wife Deborah as dedicated caregivers. Many supporters have also criticized the community and media for rushing to cast judgment.
“I am assuming Steve is innocent until proven guilty,” said Mike MacDowell, a friend of Buitenveld. “His background with children over the years and his teaching and working with disadvantaged children has been great.”
Last week, Mary Woodward, who graduated from BHS with Buitenveld in 1964, created an account at Frontier Bank to help pay for legal fees. She said the response so far has been overwhelming.
Like many other supporters, Woodward said she wanted to stand up for an old friend, regardless of the outcome of the case.
“He needs to face the consequences if he did something wrong,” Woodward said. “But Steve is still Steve and we still love him.”
Buitenveld has a long history as a caregiver on Bainbridge. During two separate periods between 1991 and 2002, Buitenveld owned and directed a licensed day care center in Rolling Bay called “Sunny and Steves.” He had worked with BHS since 2002.
Sheri Ley-Mackey, whose daughter has a developmental disability, said the allegation made against Buitenveld will damage trust in the community of caregivers on Bainbridge.
“People like (Buitenveld’s wife Deborah) and Steve are a huge resource for us,” Ley-Mackey said. “Like many educators they just have a gift for it, and it’s a gift to us.”
The Buitenveld case is now in the discovery phase, according to Deputy Kitsap County Prosecutor Kate Sigafoos. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 6.