KIRO NEWSRADIO

2 Tahoma school board members resign; superintendent says he will depart

Sep 13, 2023, 6:29 PM

Image: A photo of the sign at Rock Creek Elementary School in Maple Valley...

A photo of the sign at Rock Creek Elementary School in Maple Valley (Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Image courtesy of KIRO 7)

Are children safe in Tahoma Public Schools in Maple Valley?

There are a growing number of parents in the district who say no.

On Monday two Tahoma School Board members — Malia Hallowell and Haley Pendergraft — resigned. The same day, Superintendent Mike Hanson announced he also will leave his position at the end of this school year.

Hallowell and Pendergraft posted a joint resignation online but did not include a specific reason for their departure. When KIRO Newsradio reached out to both members, they declined to be interviewed.

Tahoma school district faces intense criticism

The recent departures appear to stem from the district’s handling of Bryan Neyers, a former paraeducator who has been charged with child rape and molestation involving several young boys between the ages of five and nine. The earliest case dates back to 2014.

 An investigation published last month by InvestigateWest, a nonprofit journalism newsroom located in Seattle, revealed “repeated efforts of at least eight district employees to notify higher-ups in the Tahoma School District about Neyers’ behavior” before his arrest in April 2020. Neyers worked across five of the district’s six elementary schools from 2015 to 2020.

According to InvestigateWest, records show “co-workers raised concerns that he let students, typically boys, sit on his lap; he bought things for students, including food and gifts; he texted and took photos of students; he drove students home from school; he spent time alone with students out of sight of other staff members; and he developed close relationships with certain students, particularly fourth- and fifth-grade boys.”

Yet, apart from a few meetings with administrators, which resulted in a verbal warning and a reminder to comply with the district’s policies in fall 2018, Neyers was never disciplined, InvestigateWest reports.

The district says they spoke with Neyers about boundary violations, but his employment continued until his arrest.

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Administrators repeatedly explained away employees’ complaints as “misunderstandings,” “rumor” and “hearsay,” InvestigateWest noted, citing public records. “Some reasoned that because Neyers was a young, gay man — fresh out of Tahoma High School when he first began working at the district in 2015 — he was being held to a different standard than his co-workers,” the story says.

The school district settled a sexual abuse lawsuit with the family of one of the victims for $3.9 million after admitting it was negligent in continuing to employ Neyers. He is currently awaiting trial.

Parents in the district are unhappy

Some parents say the district should have known he was a danger to students at least three years before his arrest.

“There are documents … of some behavior that was very concerning that I think the district discounted and discounted multiple times,” parent Elizabeth Christie said.

Christie says it never should have happened and a lot of parents have lost confidence in district leadership.

“There’s a lot of distrust in the community that the administration has done enough to protect our kids,” Christie said.

In a follow-up to its original story late last month, InvestigateWest explained that after it published its investigation, the Tahoma School District issued a response defending their actions and many parents weren’t happy about it.

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Kobi Brock, a parent and former Tahoma School District paraeducator who raised several concerns about Neyers to administrators before his arrest, said she wasn’t surprised by the school board’s email.

“I was really saddened that once again, their decision was to admit to light hand-slapping and to not take any decisive action,” Brock said, according to InvestigateWest. “There’s never an apology. There’s never an ownership of ‘We made a mistake. We need to get better.’ That goes a long way with people.”

Tahoma Schools spokesperson, A.J. Garcia also released a statement saying, “Our top priority is to provide a safe and positive educational experience for all students.”

James Lynch is a reporter for KIRO Newsradio. Steve Coogan is the lead editor at MyNorthwest.

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