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Washington Township Schools making changes to misconduct reporting system following complaints

Parents and students say concerns not addressed
North Central High School
Posted at 4:47 PM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 18:19:30-05

INDIANAPOLIS — The Metropolitan School District of Washington Township is making changes following a WRTV investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct at North Central High School.

The district sent a letter to parents Thursday night announcing it will make several changes in the coming weeks, including reviewing policies and procedures on how to report misconduct allegations, launching a listening tour to gather feedback from students and parents, and creating a district-wide awareness campaign on how to report concerns.

Last month, WRTV Investigates told you North Central High School fired teacher Nathan Shewell and Shewell's teaching license was revoked by the state this year following an Indiana Department of Education complaint that alleged misconduct involving students.

Following our story, on March 2, Washington Township students and parents held a protest, and said the district took way too long to take action.

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“Both the Washington Township Schools administration and School Board are appalled by the accounts from North Central High School former and current students regarding the profoundly inappropriate and disturbing behavior of ex-teacher Nathan Shewell,” the letter sent to parents on Thursday read.

In the letter to parents sent Thursday, the district’s superintendent Dr. Nikki Woodson and members of the school board said they want to make students feel safe and supported.

“While the District has enforced policies used by many other school corporations encouraging reporting of inappropriate statements or conduct and provided anonymous tip lines for students and families to use, we are disheartened to learn that in a vast majority of the allegations that surfaced after the District fired Shewell these reporting channels were not used,” the letter to parents read. “Washington Township Schools acknowledges that there is additional work to do in developing a culture where reports are made.”

Parents Pamela Dunlap and Julia Opferman said they disagreed with the notion that students didn’t take the proper steps to report misconduct allegations.

"I found the letter frustrating because I feel like the administration and Dr. Woodson are continuing to hide behind the facts,” Opferman said. “They’re trying to make it seem like we have this great infrastructure of support and it's just not being used, and it's just not true."

"Dr. Woodson should have stated that she is disheartened by the students that have been ignored and not supported,” Dunlap said. “She should have stated that she is disheartened by the lack of professionalism of the teachers, counselors, social workers at North Central for not letting her know as the superintendent what has really been going on at North Central.

The district plans to do the following over the next several weeks:

  • Launch a listening tour to gather feedback from students and parents on how to develop a school culture that promotes moving beyond the rumor mill to provide a safe space for timely reporting of concerns to the administration.
  • Equip school administrators, teachers, building staff, and CEC leadership and staff with trauma informed tools to appropriately respond to students if incidences of misconduct are disclosed.
  • Make information about community resources available on the Washington Township Schools website and through school communications.
  • Review all policies and procedures on how to report misconduct allegations and actively promote policy and procedural changes across the district through multiple communications channels.
  • Create a district-wide awareness campaign geared toward students on how to report allegations of misconduct via the already established anonymous tip line.

“It’s a small step,” Opferman said. “We just have a lot more work to do. The district needs to revamp the entire system, and we probably need to get rid of a few people who have not toed the line in terms of safety for these kids.”

Dunlap said the district needs to break up the “rape culture” that she said exists at North Central.

“There are lies, lies that are being told to the parents of Washington Township Schools, and that’s the message we want to make,” Dunlap said. “It is part of rape culture to deflect the negligence, the abuse of the perpetrators onto the victim. By stating that she’s disheartened that the kids didn’t do what she thought was appropriate is only deflecting that what really happened which was the appropriate measures were taken and ignored and silenced by the principal at North Central High School.”

The letter also said any parent or student can anonymously report harassment claims to Washington Township Schools via text or phone 317-672-0613, email 1217@ALERT1.US, or online.

WRTV Investigates reached out to Nathan Shewell’s attorney, Adam Lenkowsky, for a response to the misconduct allegations.

“He does not want to give a statement,” Lenkowsky said in an email to WRTV.

You can watch our full investigation here into why students say the system failed them.

You can read the full letter below.

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