A third administrator has been suspended by the state in connection with a plot to cover up an alleged sexual advance made by a teacher ‘s aide on a student at Prosper High School in North Texas.
Rachell Grant, an assistant principal at Prosper High School, has been placed on a one-year suspension by the state effective June 22. The action relates only to her principal certification — her classroom teaching license obtained in 2014 remains valid.
Records obtained through the public information act show that Grant was part of a team of administrators who tried to hush up alleged intimate advances made by a teacher’s aide on a student in 2015.
The attempt to conceal the incident prompted statewide reform of reporting practices in schools. A school nurse, MariBeth Thomas, reported the incident to both Grant and the police as required by state law.
Thomas was called into a meeting with a group of district officials including then-principal Gregory Wright and Grant.
Thomas was advised that going to the police was the wrong thing to do Administrators falsely told her that “the reason for this was to keep the student’s name ‘out of things,’” according to a state investigation report.
Privacy laws protect the name of students involved in such cases.
The report also found that Grant and her colleagues failed to take the student’s concerns about the incident seriously.
“Grant misrepresented [the student’s] concerns about how [the student] felt about the situation [and] was more concerned about a false accusation of the alleged perpetrator than about accurately reporting [the student’s] claims to law enforcement,” the investigation report says.
Grant, the report said, claimed that there were two options in the case of alleged abuse: “…report it to CPS or the Police Department. WE (sic) (administrators) are the PD.” She also said protocol in these cases was to “handle things here,” the report said.
Grant did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Thomas reported the incident to the Prosper Police Department rather than Prosper ISD’s police force, which has its own eight-member team.
The move “infuriated” Wright, according to the investigative report, who said “that’s why we have an internal police department to take care of these serious situations.”
“Respondent Wright made it clear that Ms. Thomas was making the school look bad,” the report found. In a recording obtained by the ABC affiliate in Dallas, Wright said in the meeting “… I’m all about PR, and how this high school looks.”
Wright announced his retirement in February 2017. He then surrendered his license in August. A third administrator, high school assistant principal Shelia Winter, received a reprimand on her license for her part in the attempted cover up.
The state legislature last session passed SB7, a measure aimed at policing the practice of “passing the trash,” or covering up allegations of inappropriate contact between educators and students.
The Prosper situation was cited by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as one of the reasons for the attempted reform. Educators often escape punishment for illegal or unethical behavior toward students because school districts do exactly as Prosper ISD attempted to do by trying to keep the incidents in-house.
“By the time the episode gets to the proper law enforcement agency for a real investigation, evidence like texts can already be gone,” said Katie Warren, a Harris County prosecutor who said she filed over two dozen cases a year on teachers while she was with the sex crime unit.
“It’s important that the police are told of an incident immediately to ensure a case can be made and, if necessary, the teacher is removed from the classroom.”
Assistant Superintendent of Operations Greg Bradley did not respond to an email or phone message seeking comment. Wright could not be reached.
Prosper ISD also drew scrutiny and criticism last month for its censorship of the high school newspaper.
In May, Prosper High School Principal John Burdett terminated the contract of school newspaper advisor Lori Oglesbee-Petter, who advised student papers for over three decades, after several incidents in which Burdett forced the Eagle Nation Online to remove content because the stories did not favorably reflect the school’s image.
Because of the Prosper school newspaper flap, State Sen. José Rodriguez, D-El Paso, has vowed to re-introduce a measure to provide high school journalists needed First Amendment protections. Rodriguez authored a similar bill last session that failed to move.
Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].