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The three former Bellingham Public Schools assistant principals who are accused of failing to report a former student's sexual assault allegations had their trials rescheduled in a Whatcom County court, as the school district continues its work reviewing and updating policies related to mandatory reporting.
Jeremy Gilbert Louzao, Maude Chimere Hackney and Meghan V. Dunham all had their attorneys enter on Tuesday, Jan. 24, agreed orders resetting their trial dates in Whatcom County District Court.
All three had omnibus hearings rescheduled to March 14, and their jury trials were tentatively set for April 4.
Louzao, Hackney and Dunham did not appear in court Tuesday.
The Bellingham Herald has reached out to the administrators' attorneys for comment.
Louzao, Hackney and Dunham were each criminally cited Dec. 7, 2022, for failure to report, which is a gross misdemeanor.
All three of the administrators' attorneys previously filed not-guilty pleas for the administrators.
Gross misdemeanors are punishable by up to one year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Louzao, Hackney and Dunham are accused of failing to report to either law enforcement or a state child welfare agency the alleged sexual assaults of a former Squalicum High School female student that she brought to their attention nearly a year ago.
All three of the administrators are mandatory reporters and are required by state law to report any suspected abuse or neglect of a child to law enforcement or the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families.
Bellingham Public Schools is providing legal defense for the three administrators. As part of Washington state's laws regarding the abuse of children, public employers are required to provide legal defense for public employees who are required to report abuse when the public employee "acts in good faith and without gross negligence, and if the employee's judgment as to what constitutes reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect is being challenged."
At the time the criminal citations were issued, Louzao and Dunham were serving as assistant principals at Squalicum High School, while Hackney was serving as an assistant principal at Bellingham High School.
As of Jan. 3, all three have been reassigned to the school district's Department of Teaching and Learning, where they will support district-level administrative work, The Herald previously reported.
Bellingham Public Schools has yet to decide whether the staffing changes will be made permanent and does not have a timeline for when that decision will be made.
The former Squalicum High School female student who has accused the school district of mishandling her sexual assault reports filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Dec. 7, 2022, against Bellingham Public Schools. The student, who has since withdrawn from the high school and is now attending a separate school, accused the district in her lawsuit of violating her federal Title IX rights, failing its duty to protect and care for her and of neglecting its duties to report the sexual assaults to law enforcement.
She previously sought $1 million in damages from the district before filing the federal lawsuit.
In its January response to the lawsuit, Bellingham Public Schools denied that it mishandled the student's sexual assault reports. The district said it took reasonable steps to stop the reported harassment, that the assault allegations contained in the student's lawsuit were not reported to the administrators and that the conduct that was reported to them was not considered abuse or neglect under state law.
The male student accused of sexually assaulting the female student has been charged with one count of indecent liberties by forcible compulsion, a felony, in Whatcom County Juvenile Court, which is a division of Whatcom County Superior Court. He is also facing two other criminal court cases for unrelated conduct.
All three of his cases are currently pending, according to court records.
Since the administrators were cited, Bellingham Public Schools students have staged a walk-out, as well as appeared at school board meetings to voice their concerns over what they say is a lack of support and accountability from the district regarding sexual assault and harassment of students.
In a Friday, Jan. 20, update sent to staff and families, Bellingham Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Greg Baker said the school district is continuing to examine its mandatory reporting responsibilities and processes.
He said the district is also looking at how its schools and staff support student safety.
School district officials have held separate meetings with the Bellingham Police Department and the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Families "to talk through and better align our reporting processes," Baker's Friday update states.
The district has also partnered with Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County and the Bellingham-Whatcom County Commission on Sexual & Domestic Violence. The goal is to ensure the school district is centering its responses and processes so survivors of abuse are better supported, the update states.
In addition, the district is also having its human resources department, safety staff and legal counsel review its materials, staff training and protocols to ensure the district is providing the necessary information for staff on how to respond to and manage student safety concerns, according to Baker's Friday statement.
Bellingham Public Schools is also holding talks with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Seattle-based consultants focused on improving processes for school districts to provide trauma-informed, student-centered responses to sexual assault, the statement says.
District officials and school leaders are also continuing to meet with students individually and in groups to listen to student concerns and suggestions on how the district can improve safety, school culture and its processes.
As part of this process, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County is providing additional support and resources for students at Squalicum High School who may need it. Twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., the group's employees are available to students and are on site in the high school's counseling office, The Herald previously reported.
The school district will continue to provide the services as long as students are continuing to utilize the services and Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services of Whatcom County has the capacity to be on campus, Jaqueline Brawley, a Bellingham Public Schools spokesperson, previously told The Herald.
The twice-a-week service is only being provided at Squalicum High School at this time, but the district's other high schools have had regular support groups or additional on-site resources in the past, Brawley said.
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