New bathroom-use regulations have been instituted in Great Valley School District's four elementary schools as well as in the middle school and high school, Superintendent Alan Lonoconus announced at a school board work session Monday night. Some bathrooms are now designated "students only" and "adults only" in each of the four district elementary schools.
The new regulations follow recent child sexual abuse allegations against school district employee Matthew Lewis and parents' subsequent demand for stricter safeguards and policy changes.
At a Dec. 22 meeting with parents, school board president David Barratt said the board would provide a monthly update on its progress in terms of policy and procedural changes.
The change in bathroom policies announced Jan. 9 was what one parent called "the low-hanging fruit" in the series of changes the district must undertake.
In each elementary school, at least some bathrooms have been designated "students only" and "adults only." From the information provided by Lonoconus, it seems that Sugartown is the only elementary school where certain bathrooms remain open for both students and adults. Most are designated "students only" or "adults only," but the gym lobby bathrooms at Sugartown are available for students as well as all visitors to the school.
In the secondary schools, staff have been told to use the designated staff bathrooms whenever possible. When it is necessary to use a student bathroom, male teachers should use stalls instead of urinals.
Lonoconus said after the meeting that these new regulations are only procedural guidelines, not yet board policy. Therefore, if a staff member were to break the rule and use a student bathroom, the consequences would be at the discretion of the school principal.
A PDF document provided by the school district, attached to this article, includes Lonoconus's remarks and more details on bathroom protocol changes in each elementary school.
Lewis's preliminary hearing was scheduled for Dec. 28, but has been delayed until Jan. 30. The district has no other information on either the police investigation or legal proceedings, Lonoconus said.
Lewis has not been seen on or near school property since his arrest. Faculty and staff in each school are aware that Lewis should not be allowed on school grounds. The school district attorneys have requested that this be a condition of Lewis's bail.
Lonoconus said he has been in contact with a company that could track whether district families' personal information was obtained by Lewis, and the district is waiting on a bid from the company before moving forward. The district's attorneys had advised that the district not turn over Lewis's school laptop to police.
Counselors in the four district elementary schools are working with teachers to identify students who may need counseling.
So far, counselors have not received any calls from parents about children's unusual behavior or comments at home. Lonoconus encouraged parents to contact the elementary school counselors if their children do seem to be expressing fear, anxiety, or other abnormal behaviors over recent events.
Lonoconus said the elementary school curricula do cover concepts like "stranger danger" and "good touch, bad touch." Patch spoke with Lonoconus after the meeting to ask if those concepts had recently been reiterated in the elementary schools.
"Obviously, they're reiterating that and seeing how it applies to this situation," Lonoconus said.
Policy Issues, Legal Issues
Lonoconus and other school district officials have been researching the possibility of future policies related to employees who have been accused of a crime, but not yet arrested or convicted. Lonoconus said he had received responses from both Downingtown and West Chester school districts, neither of which have policies that pertain to this type of situation. The Pennsylvania School Board Association also does not have a policy on the issue.
Legislatively, there are several bills in Congress that would address this type of employee issue, but none in either house have as of yet any "certain status."
The state has, however, recently enacted Act 24, which the school district will approve in February, Lonoconus said. It requires that any employee convicted or arrested for a crime inform the superintendent within 72 hours. Failure to do so, or doing so inaccurately, could subject the employee to disciplinary action, including termination and criminal prosecution.
The next school board meeting is next Tuesday, Jan. 17 in the district office at 7:30 p.m.