INDIANAPOLIS -- The president of the Indianapolis Public Schools Board said the district is making changes in an effort to prevent future incidents of failure to report child abuse allegations, including improved training and policy changes.
Mary Ann Sullivan answered questions Tuesday from Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney following the Shana Taylor scandal.
Taylor is accused of having sex with students while working as a counselor for the district. She was fired and criminally charged, and multiple other IPS employees have been fired or resigned over the scandal for failing to report the child abuse allegations to police or the Indiana Department of Child Services in a timely manner.
“Clearly we can do better,” Sullivan told Call 6 Investigates in an exclusive interview. “The incident was not handled the best it could have been.”
An IPS policy titled “Procedures for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect” says all school personnel have a duty to report child abuse allegations to Child Protective Services, and school staff should immediately call the state hotline at 1-800-800-5556.
The policy also states if an employee can’t figure out what to do, they should call the Title IX coordinator or the assistant superintendent for human resources.
Assistant principal William Jensen fought his firing, saying he reported the allegations to human resources who told him not call the police.
Sullivan said their investigation found many employees wrongly assumed someone else had reported the allegations.
“We want to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” said Sullivan. “We shouldn’t leave anything to chance.”
IPS is now developing a chain of command type checklist that will help eliminate confusion.
"The lesson learned is, don't make assumptions,” said Sullivan. “That's a pretty simple lesson learned, but you have to have policy and guidelines in place to make sure that lesson is real."
Sullivan said with the help of a United Negro College Fund (UNCF) summer intern, the district is reviewing all of its policies, something that was in the works before the Shana Taylor scandal broke.
“I think that project will probably be done in the fall," said Sullivan.
Superintendent Dr. Lewis Ferebee learned of the child abuse allegations on February 17, the same day as several other employees, yet the school board has not yet taken against Ferebee.
Attorney Kevin Betz, who represents fired employees William Jensen and Deb Leser, alleged Ferebee covered up the scandal so he could get a $60,000 raise and bonus.
At the meeting in which several employees lost their jobs over the Taylor scandal, Mary Ann Sullivan released a statement supporting Ferebee.
Call 6 asked Sullivan why Ferebee hasn't been punished for the incident:
“Can you clarify for us why you do not feel Dr. Ferebee should be punished when we know he did know about this alleged inappropriate relationship and also did not report it timely?" Kenney asked.
“I think Dr. Ferebee is also one of our employees," Sullivan said. "We just do not address issues of personnel.”
Sullivan praised Ferebee for staying focused despite the Shana Taylor controversy.
“He kept on showing up every day doing his job, moving forward on the tasks the board has set for him to do,” Sullivan said. “I just wanted to recognize that fact. It’s a very difficult situation.”
"Could he still face discipline, or is that a closed chapter?” Kenney asked.
“If there’s new information that has previously not come to the board, obviously new information, we may have to take another look at anything," Sullivan said. "As far as the board is concerned, this incident is closed.”
WATCH an extended version of the interview with Sullivan below
Sullivan said IPS also retrained some of its staff, including principals, on March 17 and reminded them of their duty to report allegations of child abuse or neglect.
Indiana law says you have to immediately report suspected child abuse or neglect to police or the Indiana Department of Child Services.