The Sarasota County School District intends to learn from its mistakes, including how to more effectively handle allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Last year, district Chief Operating Officer Jeff Maultsby resigned following allegations of sexual harassment from his assistant, Cheraina Bonner.
Former Superintendent Todd Bowden and the district later reached a mutual agreement to terminate Bowden’s contract. The superintendent’s leaving was a result of how he handled the Maultsby case.
The district has since sought outside help to review and strengthen policies regarding harassment, review training, and receive recommendations on policy implementation.
During Tuesday’s school board workshop, the district heard presentations from three outside security risk management firms. Ultimately, the board decided to extend a contract opportunity to Kroll, a global company headquartered in New York.
The company will review current policies and practices regarding sexual harassment, which will cover adults and students, conduct training for how to handle cases, look at the district’s complaint form and make recommendations for who should be trained and how regularly.
The board collectively agreed the investment was worth it.
“Sometimes you get what you pay for,” Caroline Zucker, board chair said, adding, “by far they understand exactly what we’re looking for.”
School board member Bridget Ziegler said it’s “an investment in the front end now (that would) offset the legal fees later, of not doing it right.”
Board member Eric Robinson echoed her sentiment. “It’s cheaper if you do it right the first time,” he said.
Mark Ehlers, managing director of business intelligence and investigations at Kroll spoke to the board about his personal experience and the company’s working with these types of cases.
Ehlers is the co-leader of the title IX and sexual misconduct investigations at Kroll. He has previously worked as an assistant attorney in Washington, D.C., for eight years, where part of the time he worked in the sex offense unit.
Kroll has conducted training sessions, taught districts how to conduct investigative work and assisted in reforming and improving policies related to harassment.
He cited that the company has worked with Tower Hill School a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school in Wilmington, Delaware, after their headmaster was arrested on child pornography charges. Kroll conducted a retrospective review and assessed their procedure for hiring a new headmaster.
The company also worked with Michigan State University, taking care of their backlog of title IX investigations.
Ehlers said their approach to implementing new policies would be to “train the trainers,” rather than have staff learning from videos. From there, they would make sure all information regarding harassment or misconduct was available on the website, in schools, and in student handbooks, so staff and students know how to recognize it.
They would look into having a title IX coordinator in the district, and revisit training annually to see what’s working and if any kinks in their initial implementation needs to be addressed.
“We have to make sure we don’t have anything fall through the cracks in the future,” said board member Jane Goodwin. “We have to make sure we put this in the priority it needs to be placed in. It’s so important to our culture that we get this right,” she added.
The next step is for the district to offer Kroll a contract and enter negotiations. The contract will be voted on in an upcoming board meeting.