We have serious safety issues at R. Roger Rowe. I have addressed this with the administration and the school board for several years but my concerns have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears. I write today hoping to inform the community so we can work to implement more robust procedures.
Donna Tripi, our superintendent, has her strengths but simply isn’t capable of maintaining a secure campus. While I know she cares about the idea of safety, the reality is that she fails to maintain the most basic of measures. In 2019, we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to install automatic perimeter locks, only to thwart them on a regular basis by propping doors open. Instead of attempting to address these breaches, she denied them altogether until confronted with photos of open, unmanned access points. For a short period following the Uvalde shootings, we took care to secure our perimeter, but have long since returned to complacency. I know the school board has discussed additional steps to promote safety, such as software monitoring programs and the creation of a board safety liaison. That’s great, but let’s start utilizing the basic resources we already have. Let’s start by closing the doors.
We learned over the summer that a long-term substitute was arrested on child pornography charges. According to the public record, he targeted our students, posing (with a co-conspirator) as teen girls in an attempt to lure boys into sending sexually explicit photos. And though Daniel Dasko was a substitute, screened by a third party, he was given unfettered access to our students, chaperoning field trips and the 8th grade graduation night. In the more than 5 months since his arrest, we have made exactly zero changes to our hiring or screening protocols for staff and substitutes. The Carlsbad police investigated him for similar offenses prior to his employment at our school; this was not discovered during his background investigation. One would think we would use this as a learning experience and change our practices, but in fact, the bar gets only lower, and this is a failing of our superintendent. Last month, she hired a soccer coach, allowing him to begin working prior to a background screen (and was less than truthful when confronted by her board during open session). On December 9, 2022, an unqualified, uncertificated para-professional employee was utilized as a substitute (a violation of California educational code). This is simply unacceptable, reckless, and negligent. While the vast majority of teachers act in the best interests of children, a terrifying proportion of child predators seek jobs in teaching and coaching. Simply put, predators seek access to their victims from a position of trust and authority, and we need to be actively screening for and excluding such individuals. Our board has paid an outside investigator $35,000 to evaluate Mr. Dasko’s tenure. Where are the results of this investigation? It has been almost 6 months, though then-president Jee Manghani told the community the process should take roughly 60 days. We should not wait for the board investigator to tell us what should be obvious: we must screen potential personnel carefully and thoroughly.
The board is well aware of our repeated safety failures. Instead of learning from our missteps, the administration actively attempts to hide them. If our leadership is not capable of prioritizing safety, the Board must step in to implement a plan of action. I know each Board member wants a safe campus with appropriately-vetted faculty, but we have an ineffective leader responsible for doing so. We are in a transition period as we search for a new superintendent, but this is not an acceptable excuse for our safety deficiencies. We cannot wait until a new leader is in place (unlikely to occur this academic year) to remedy this. Our current plan is failing, and the onus is on the board to come up with an alternative solution to implement immediately. I believe John Tree, the newly-elected president, takes this very seriously. However, we still have the issue that any improved measures must be implemented by the superintendent, and I have no confidence in her capacity to assure a safer campus.