School Superintendent Explains Decision Not to Announce Sexual Assault Investigation

Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 4:52 pm
Ann Nichols and Alice Dreger

In response to a question from ELi, Acting Superintendent of East Lansing Public Schools Dori Leyko has explained the context of her administration’s decision not to announce to parents that a sexual assault investigation has been opened regarding an alleged incident at East Lansing’s High School. Some parents have been criticizing Leyko and the District administration for not advising parents before news of the investigation broke.

The investigation came to light via a report in the Lansing State Journal published yesterday. That report contained little information, indicating only that, “The incident, which is being treated as first-degree criminal sexual assault, was reported at about 5:20 p.m. [on] April 11….The incident is alleged to have occurred on school grounds around 3 p.m.”

The LSJ report was followed shortly by a letter to parents from Coby Fletcher, Principal of the High School. The letter contained no additional information and closed, “the school is unable to comment further on the ongoing investigation. I can, however, reiterate that the well-being of our students is paramount for us and the school has taken the necessary measures to continue to ensure their safety.”

Asked to explain the decision not to advise parents in advance of the media account, Leyko told ELi today, “we have to consider many factors when considering when, how, and what to share with our families.” She wrote in an email response, “The primary factor that informs our decision on when to notify or not notify parents of an alleged crime being investigated by the police on one of our sites is the safety of our students. In this situation, we were confident that there was no danger to our students and that all of our students on campus were and are safe.”

Some readers of the news might imagine a charge of “first-degree criminal sexual assault” to constitute a violent rape, but the charge encompasses other possibilities. Under Michigan law, a charge of first degree criminal sexual conduct could be based on penetration along with the use of weapons, force and/or threats, but could also stem from consensual penetration under certain circumstances. These include any sexual penetration of someone under the age of thirteen, or sexual penetration of someone between the ages of thirteen and sixteen if the alleged perpetrator is in a position of influence, is an employee of the school in which the victim is enrolled, or where the victim is related to the perpetrator.

In a relatively small town like East Lansing, it can be challenging to protect the identities of alleged victims and those alleged to have committed crimes, including while investigations occur.

Lekyo closed her response to our inquiry by writing, “We work closely with the East Lansing Police Department on any alleged crime. District administrators must ensure that we don't share information that may compromise the integrity of the investigation. In addition, we often request guidance from the district's legal counsel on matters that involve the law.”