As I journey toward school administration mastery, I find myself learning new strategies and techniques every day. Too many times, however, I’m learning these strategies the hard way – by making mistakes.
One of the main skills that administrators need to have is how to investigate reports of rules violations.
I’ve been pretty good at getting students to tell me the truth, even after initial denial, but recently, I got overconfident, and it came back to bite me.
It was a great learning lesson that I would like to share with any other new school administrators.
Here’s the scenario:
Three female students come into the office and reported to the counselor that a male student was sexually harassing them by making lewd and inappropriate comments.
The report came in close to the end of the day, and I wanted to take care of this before the boy went home.
I called in the boy, and notified him that he was going to get suspended for sexual harassment.
When I asked him about the incident, he denied it, which is a common response, but I had three witnesses. I felt I had enough to suspend.
I called the parents, and gave them the bad news.
They showed up 10 minutes later, and we were in my office for the next 2 hours.
The parents could not believe that their son could say such inappropriate things. Although they were open to the possibility that their son wasn’t perfect, they wanted to see what proof I had.
I actually wouldn’t do anything different if I was in their place. I would not want to believe that my son is guilty of doing anything like this. I would want to have all the facts as well.
I explained to them that I had three witnesses.
They asked me if the three witnesses knew each other, and I answered, “Yes.”
“How do we know that these girls weren’t making up this story just to get my son in trouble?”
When the parents asked this, I tried explaining to them the low probability that three 13 year-olds would be able to conspire to come up with such a scheme. They weren’t convinced, and I don’t blame them .
What I needed were witnesses that were in no way connected to the initial three accusers.
Like I mentioned earlier, I can normally coax a confession from students who initially deny what they’re being accused of, but this time, the boy wasn’t budging from his innocence.
I investigated in a hurry.
Because of the lack of convincing evidence, I agreed to lower the consequence to a couple of days of on-campus detention.
Was this a conspiracy of a trio of 13-year-olds against a boy who they didn’t like?
I couldn’t prove otherwise, so I learned a valuable lesson.
I promised the parents that I would continue the investigation, and if it came out that the girls were in an evil alliance against their son, that I would delete the incident from his record and offer a sincere apology, along with giving consequences to the girls.
We ended the meeting, and I went home feeling like a dumb rookie.
As it turned out, I found another witness who was totally unbiased and credible who confirmed the girls’ story.
Making that second call to the parents was satisfying, but at the same time, I felt for the dad who had to come to the realization that his son was not only making inappropriate comments, but also lying to him.
After this experience, I decided to come up with a checklist of what I need to do when I have to investigate an accusation.
Most experienced administrators probably do all these as second nature, but if you are starting out in your administrative career like me, I’d like to share.
What to do when you have to investigate an accusation
1. Interview the accuser(s).
2. Have the accuser(s) write down their statements. If there are more than one accuser, have them interviewed separately. Have them fill out their statements separately.
3. Ask the accuser(s) the following questions:
Are you and the accused friends? enemies?
When I interview the accused, will he/she say that you are doing the same thing to him/her?
Who else witnessed the incident? Names?
When did the incident take place?
Where did the incident take place?
4. Interview the witnesses and have them write statements.
5. Interview the accused.
6. Have the accused write a statement.
7. Find out if the accused has witnesses and interview them.
8. Find out if there any teachers or other adults who can contribute information?
9. Find out if the accuser(s) and/or witness(es) are friends?
10. Don’t rush the investigation. If there is not enough time in a day to complete the investigation, continue it the following day.
The whole point of the investigation is to make sure you have all the evidence from both sides before you make a determination on guilt or innocence.
Hopefully, there will be a confession sometime in your investigation, but if not, you need to have enough reliable and unbiased witness statements to justify the consequence.
I wish I could say that I am an expert in my position, but I’m not.
I’m learning, however, and with every new learning experience, I know I’m getting closer to my goal of school administration mastery.
I’m curious to know if there are other administrators out there with similar experiences or advice.
I hope you found this helpful. If you did, can you do me a favor and tweet or share this post?