Trinity Lutheran Elementary Teacher Had Students Become Pen Pals with Child Molester, Suit Says (UPDATED)
Parents have filed a lawsuit against Trinity Lutheran School that claims a teacher had students become pen pals with a man who has been convicted of child molestation.
The suit also says the teacher's fiancé, under indictment for possession of child pornography, was allowed to interact with the nine- and ten-year-old students, possibly even coaching some sports teams.
Officials at the downtown Houston school "knew of the hazard of the minor children communicating with and giving personal information to an accused child molester, or they failed to take any action to make themselves aware of the risks -- action as simple as running his name on Google or other search engine," the suit says.
The suit says students were corresponding with Rickey Rea Rowlett while he was in Comal County Jail on child molestation charges. He was sentenced last week to 50 years in prison.
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The suit says the teacher announced a class project in which students would write to Rowlett. "In order to avoid having the Comal County Sheriff's Department recognize and detect children's letters entering the jail...[the teacher] would give them to her father, who would repackage them in a larger envelope or package for delivery to Rowlett to avoid detection as 'contraband' by the jail."
The letters, which were discovered when Rowlett was being transferred to prison, were intended to possibly be used in Rowlett's defense in the sentencing phase of his trial, the suit says.
School principal Church pastor Michael Dorn downplayed the issue when he was informed of it and told the parents both Rowlett and the fiancé were innocent until proven guilty, the suit says.
The suit also says the children had been led to believe Rowlett was "an innocent protector of children to be believed and warmly received, placing him on a pedastal of trust."
The children, the suit says, were therefore dismayed and felt guilty about Rowlett's conviction and the school's subsequent "reluctant" firing of the teacher.
We've contacted Trinity Lutheran and they say they will be issuing a statement, which we'll post as soon as we receive it.
Update: The statement is in from John Menke, the governing board chairman of the school and church. He apologizes, but says the knowledge of the situation was "limited to two individuals" and did not include "the highest level of administration."
On behalf of the governing board of Trinity Lutheran School, we share the concern and fully understand the gravity of these allegations because we are parents and members of this church too. We are fully committed to the safety of our students and families and want to stress that this is not reflective of how we strive to operate as a church and school. In our understanding the facts of the situation, we do not condone any of the alleged activities or the decisions of those individuals involved. Our governing board is investigating what involved staff members knew as well as their action and inaction. This situation is absolutely unacceptable and we are currently taking the proper steps to address it. Based on our investigation to date, the lawsuit has many inaccuracies -‐ namely the allegation that the highest level of administration was aware of the letter writing project. That knowledge was, in fact, limited to two individuals.
We have taken a number of actions to date in order to address this situation. Mrs. Perry is no longer an employee of Trinity and Mrs. Boatman has been placed on administrative leave. We have reviewed our campus policy and procedures for on‐site security and building access and added daytime security officer from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. As a small school and a close‐knit community, we are providing ongoing counseling for our students and staff members. Additional measures will be taken as the facts support those decisions.
While policies are in place, we have formed a task force of our governing board to conduct a thorough review of the facts and determination of whether staff members have complied with all policies and procedures. In addition, we are training staff on our policies and procedures to ensure this type of situation does not happen again. We will also communicate any future additions to those policies to our staff and parents.
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