Parents of a former student at Aurora Academy Charter School are raising questions about communication between their daughter and a teacher. (Photo: KDVR)
The father of a 7-year-old girl is voicing concerns this week after his daughter received an inappropriate note from a teacher at her elementary school.
Cary Reed, a father of five in Aurora Colorado, says his daughter started at the Aurora Academy Charter School this year as a second grader. “She had been there for two weeks and didn’t really know anybody yet, and my understanding is that she was sitting by herself at recess, and not necessarily playing with anyone because she hadn’t befriended anyone yet,” Reed tells Yahoo Parenting. “This fourth grade teacher was on the playground and had given up his lunch hour to play with the kids, which on the surface is commendable. But then she came home with a note from him that she was excited about. She was calling him by his first name; we hadn’t heard of him and we knew he wasn’t her teacher, so it kind of gave us an eye raise.”
This note that a 7-year-old received from a teacher at her school, referring to a game they played at recess, caused concern for her parents. (Photo: Cary Reed)
The note, which Reed’s daughter shared with her parents, included a photograph of the teacher sticking his tongue out at the girl and called her by the nickname Stinky Butt. “It seemed kind of weird. Why would he take a personal photo of himself? And that Stinky Butt part got to me — I work in education, and I wouldn’t do that,” Reed, who is an administrator at a charter school program for at-risk youth, says. “On the flip side, we thought maybe it was harmless and we didn’t want to pass judgment or tell our daughter to stay away from him just based on this. But if I were in his position, I might have said something to her teacher or an administrator as a heads-up, like ‘Hey, I wrote her this note, just let her parents know who I am.’ That kind of thing.”
The following day, Reed’s daughter, whose name he declined to share, came home with a second note from the same teacher. This time, the note included a poem with lines like, “you make me smile” and “I hope our friendship can be the key.” The note raised more warning flags for Reed. “It seemed like it was asking for friendship,” he says. “It was really inviting, and it just felt off. Whether this had good or bad intentions, it crossed professional boundaries and made me wonder what he is up to.”
Parents took their daughter out of the school after she received this poem from a teacher. (Photo: Cary Reed)
Reed says that he and his wife spoke to administrators at the school about their concerns, and they originally expressed similar surprise at the contents of the note. But, after speaking with the teacher, the school principal told Reed there was no wrongdoing, he says. “She put the onus on our daughter, like ‘Oh, your daughter approached him and at recess, she engaged the relationship, and it went from there. Stinky Butt just became the name he used to refer to her,’” Reed says. “I said, ‘You are telling me a 7-year-old established a relationship with a teacher, and the teacher turned around and engaged in pet names?’ The adult is the one that sets the parameters and boundaries of a relationship, not the child. The child will take it as far as she can every single time.”
In a meeting with the principal and the teacher, Reed says he was informed that administrators told the teacher his language in the note was improper and asked him not to give up his lunch hour anymore, but they would not be taking any further action. “They said there was no wrongdoing, he doesn’t have a history of inappropriate behavior, and that was it.”
In a statement to Yahoo Parenting, Aurora Academy Charter School principal Pat Ledger stated that there was no sexual nature to the letters in question. “Improper language may have been used in the letter sent to the student,” she wrote in an email. “We have spoken to our staff member and are working to prevent this from happening in the future. Due to privacy laws and because this is a personnel matter, we are unable to disclose additional information. We did an internal investigation, an external investigation was done, the Police were notified and no basis for dismissal was found. This teacher is still employed.”
The teacher in question did not respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.
Reed says he is not accusing this teacher of anything, including having made any sexual advances toward his daughter, but also that he simply can’t be sure. “I don’t know him from more than the 30 minutes we spoke, but I’m not willing to put my daughter’s innocence on the line to assume he didn’t have any bad intentions,” he says.
In the two weeks since this incident, Reed has removed his daughter from the school and enrolled her elsewhere. He says he’s speaking out now because he thinks other local parents should be informed. “If you are not going to fire this teacher, at least inform your staff, let the parents know there was a questionable incident, do some boundaries training,” he says. “My daughter is going to be safe, because she’s in a new school. But if this had happened to someone else, I would want to know so I could have options as a parent. The school should say, ‘We had an issue, we didn’t feel it was a fireable offense, but here’s what you should know.’”
Charol Shakeshaft, professor of educational leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, says that Reed was right to be concerned. “There isn’t a friendship between teachers and students. Friendship is a term between equals. There is learning and professional courtesy, but you don’t send your child to school to be friends with a teacher,” she tells Yahoo Parenting. “This note is exactly what grooming looks like and is so inappropriate that I would call it a red flag.”
Shakeshaft adds that if this teacher did in fact notice that a student seemed especially lonely on the playground, he should have taken different actions. “He might bring it up in a faculty meeting and get her teachers to think of appropriate approaches, or speak to the guidance counselor to look into it. He can certainly say ‘Hi, how are you doing?’ but to send a note like that is way off the scale.”
The language in the notes — using his first name and the “Stinky Butt” nickname, acting like the two are special friends, giving a general feeling of “you are different than the rest of the kids” — is what Shakeshaft says concerns her. “I’m not saying this guy will sexually abuse, just that this behavior fits the profile,” she says. She also believes the school should keep a close eye on the situation. “There are lots of things that aren’t against the law that we don’t allow teachers to do, and we fire them for doing those things. The school is supposed to keep kids safe.”
Ultimately, Shakeshaft says Reed and his wife made the right call. “It’s wonderful to see parents who are looking out to be sure their child is safe,” she says. “I see all the time, parents see something they think seems weird, they go to the school and say something, and the school says ‘We’ll talk to him, he’s a touchy feely teacher’ and a year later we learn the worst has happened.”
Parents should err on the side of caution and listen to their instincts, Shakeshaft says. “We tend to think ‘Oh, I must be overreacting.’ That’s what parents tend to think, and the school reinforces that by saying ‘Yes, it’s weird, but nothing serious,’” she says. “Trust your gut.”