Bellingham assistant principals accused of failing to report student’s sexual assaults

Staff/The Bellingham Herald file

Three Bellingham Public Schools assistant principals have been accused of failing to report sexual assaults that a student brought to their attention nearly a year ago.

Maude Chimere Hackney, Jeremy G. Louzao and Meghan V. Dunham were each issued criminal citations Wednesday, Dec. 7, for failure to report, a gross misdemeanor.

All three are mandatory reporters, which requires them by law to report any suspected abuse or neglect of a child to law enforcement or the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families.

Hackney, Louzao and Dunham were each given a mandatory date to appear in Whatcom County District Court, Bellingham Police Lt. Claudia Murphy told The Bellingham Herald in a Thursday, Dec. 8, email.

Hackney, 41 of Olympia, is an assistant principal at Bellingham High School. Louzao, 41 of Bellingham and Dunham, 50 of Bellingham, are assistant principals at Squalicum High School, according to the Bellingham Public School’s staff directory.

A fourth school district employee was investigated but was ultimately not charged, according to the Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

All three of the assistant principals are continuing to work in their normal capacities and have the district’s support in doing so, according to a Friday, Dec. 9, update from Bellingham Public Schools Superintendent Greg Baker.

“We do not believe the staff members pose a safety risk to students, and the allegations against them do not involve conduct endangering students, beyond an alleged failure to report student-to-student sexual contact,” Baker’s statement said.

He added that student privacy laws prevent the district from sharing certain information about the situation.

The school district confirmed in a Friday evening email sent to The Herald that none of the three school administrators have been placed on paid administrative leave.

The district said it considers whether an employee may place others at risk by remaining at work and whether the employee’s presence at work would interfere with an ongoing investigation when deciding whether to place an employee on paid administrative leave or not, Bellingham Public Schools spokesperson Dana Smith said.

“We do not believe the staff members pose a safety risk to students, and the allegations against them do not involve conduct endangering students, beyond an alleged failure to report student-to-student sexual contact. We also do not believe their presence at work will interfere with any investigation,” Smith said.

When asked whether Louzao, Dunham or Hackney have been disciplined or if the school district anticipated discipline, Smith said that “internal investigations are ongoing.”

Smith did not provide answers to The Herald’s questions regarding when the internal investigations started.

The assaults

On Jan. 14, a 15-year-old female student reported to Louzao that she had been sexually assaulted by a 14-year-old male student at Squalicum High School in November and December 2021, according to Murphy.

Louzao served as dean of students for Squalicum High School during the 2021-2022 school year before he began serving as assistant principal at the high school this fall, according to an April school district message sent to staff and families.

The victim was told a safety agreement would be put in place between her and the male student, according to Murphy.

The male student violated the safety agreement four days later, on Jan. 18.

The female student brought the safety agreement violation to the attention of Dunham, who was also serving as dean of students at the high school.

It was discovered that the safety agreement had not been completed, Murphy said. The agreement was not completed and signed until Jan. 21.

More than two weeks later, on Feb. 2, the female student reported the sexual assaults to Bellingham police.

The following day, on Feb. 3, Hackney facilitated a meeting between the victim and the accused male student to discuss the reported sexual assault incidents, Murphy said.

At no time did Louzao, Dunham or Hackney ever report the sexual assaults to law enforcement or the state department of children and family services.

The male student was arrested for alleged indecent liberties in the 3700 block of E. McLeod Road in Bellingham on Feb. 16, according to Murphy. He was later booked into juvenile detention.

The status of his criminal case was not immediately known.

The case was ultimately referred to the Whatcom prosecutor’s office, which determined probable cause existed to charge Louzao, Hackney and Dunham with failing to report the sexual assaults, Murphy said.

Bellingham police are not investigating any other school district employees for failure to report at this time, Murphy said.

Citations weren’t issued until this week because a complete investigation and a referral to and review by the prosecutor’s office needed to be done.

It “took some time to complete,” Murphy said, adding that “mandatory reporting is incredibly important.”

Baker said the district believes in the safety and protection of students, calling it “our No. 1 priority,” in his Friday statement.

He said all accusations of mistreatment are addressed and referred the public to the district’s tip line for safety issues in the district’s schools.

“Our staff, including our administrators, work through challenging circumstances every day in support of students. This includes making difficult decisions, referring incidents to partner agencies and navigating crises,” Baker’s Friday statement said.

In response to The Herald’s questions regarding why the district never reported the sexual assaults, what the purpose of the meeting Hackney facilitated was, whether the victim was aware of the meeting prior to Hackney scheduling it or whether meetings of this nature were standard protocol for the district, Smith said “We are not able to share additional information due to federal educational privacy law. The police are bound by different privacy statutes than schools are.”

Mandatory reporting

All school district employees are considered mandatory reporters in Washington state.

This means that, by law, any school employee is required to report suspected child abuse or neglect, including unlawful sexual conduct, to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families or to law enforcement.

The employee is required to immediately provide an oral report, made by telephone, to law enforcement or the state children and family services department.

If requested, the employee is required to issue a report in writing that includes the following information if it is known:

The name, address and age of the child.

The name and address of the child’s parents, stepparents, guardians, or other people who have custody of the child.

The nature and extent of the alleged injury or injuries.

The nature and extent of the alleged neglect.

The nature and extent of the alleged sexual abuse.

Any evidence of previous injuries, including their nature and extent.

Any other information that may be helpful in establishing the cause of the child’s death, injury or injuries, and the identity of the alleged perpetrator or perpetrators.

If a crime has been alleged to have been committed, law enforcement is required to be notified, according to state law.

Mandated reporters who knowingly fail to make a report, or cause a report to be made, are guilty of a gross misdemeanor.

A gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine.

In the Friday morning statement, Baker said all school district staff receive annual trainings on reporting any suspected child abuse or neglect to law enforcement or state child protective services.

“We take our duty as mandatory reporters seriously. We are reviewing our training materials and processes regarding mandatory reporting and are working to make improvements in partnership with Bellingham Police,” Baker’s statement reads.

The annual trainings for employees on their responsibilities as mandatory reporters are held in person during staff meetings and through web-based trainings, Smith, the district’s spokesperson, said Friday evening. She said the district documents and tracks their employees’ participation in the mandatory trainings.

Smith said each situation is unique and that Bellingham Public Schools staff members follow the reporting guidelines for Child Protective Services for child abuse and neglect.

The school district’s protocol for “student-to-student contact” is to collect additional information and report suspected crimes to the authorities, Smith said.

She also said the district provides resources, such as connecting students with Bellingham police, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County, victim support services and other appropriate services depending on the needs of the student.

A school-based safety plan or disciplinary consequences may also be imposed, she said.

Smith said Friday evening that none of the three assistant principals have a record of similar allegations of failing to report. She also said that each of the three administrators were up to date on their most recent required trainings.

When asked what steps the district takes to ensure the safety of students who report abuse or assault, Smith referred The Herald to the district’s protocol for student-to-student contact.

Smith said there are different types of safety plans the district’s schools may use depending upon each case, but said that many safety plans are voluntary. She said that if students enter into the voluntary safety agreement, it is maintained at the school level and monitored by building-level administrators through regular check-ins with the students.

Smith said sometimes safety plans are more formal, either due to a victim obtaining a civil protection order from the court system, or because a full investigation is underway or has been completed and determined the accused student was at fault. In those cases, safety plan violations can be enforced by the district’s school disciplinary processes, Smith said.

Staff histories

Hackney was hired as assistant principal at Bellingham High School in May 2022, and had previously been hired as an assistant principal for Squalicum High School in May 2021, according to previous school district updates sent to staff and families.

She previously worked in the Franklin Pierce School District in Tacoma, where she completed her principal internship and served as dean of students at Franklin Pierce High School.

She was formally hired by Bellingham Public Schools July 1, 2021, according to Smith, the district’s spokesperson. Hackney’s current salary is $151,003.

Dunham, who was hired by the school district Aug. 28, 2014, was previously a dean of students at Squalicum High School. She took Hackney’s place as assistant principal at Squalicum High School in May 2022, according to previous district updates sent out.

She previously taught career technical education and special education at Options High School and Birchwood Elementary. She also taught special education and English language learner in Lynden Public Schools and San Jose, California.

Dunham’s current salary is $148,770.

Louzao was hired as an assistant principal at Squalicum High School and began serving in the role this fall. He was hired by the district Aug. 22, 2016, as a multilingual learner specialist and served as a dean of students for the high school during the 2021-2022 school year, previous school district updates state.

His current salary is $148,770, according to Smith.