School officials fielded often angry and emotional questions from parents in the days after authorities arrested Adams Elementary School teacher Justin Coleman on child pornography charges.
Before a packed auditorium in the West End school Monday evening, Superintendent Morton Sherman defended the actions of administrators after they learned of a federal investigation into the fourth grade dual languages teacher.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents did not alert Alexandria City Public Schools staff to the investigation nor Wednesdays early mornings raid of Colemans Falls Church home, Sherman said. They found out about the allegations only after city police alerted them later in the morning, he said.
Coleman, then at the school, was removed from the classroom and officials met to discuss how to handle the situation, according to Sherman. Though school principal Gene May later resigned, the move was unrelated to the federal investigation, he said.
While contacting parents by phone and through the PTAs listserv, administrators met again Friday morning to discuss next steps.
Parents, many of who first learned about Colemans arrest in the news, blasted officials for not informing them sooner. Sherman faulted federal agents for keeping staff out of the loop while quickly publicizing the information.
I wish we had known about this [earlier], Sherman said. We werent told a press release was coming out. We were behind the eight ball The police in our own city didnt have this information I am angry we didnt know.
Parents also questioned the districts hiring practices and background checks, though officials said all employees go through state and federal levels of scrutiny before getting cleared to work.
Parent Yassir Bazouni is considering moving his family out of the city over Colemans arrest.
Most teachers they hire should be fully scrutinized, like they have a government job, he said. You have to have a clearance. Federal agents ask everyone about you, they go back 10 years.
A panel of experts assembled to aid parents and children cope with the news gave only vague help, Bazouni said. He wants teachers backgrounds checked again.
Fellow parent Krystal Glenn came away from the community meeting feeling it accomplished little, but did not fault administrators for the communication failure. There wasnt a lot they could do, Glenn said. In the future, the mother of two hopes administrators will get information out more aggressively to parents.
Unfortunately, theres no way for parents to prevent crime, she said. Theres nothing a parent can do. If there was, there would be no crime, no police.