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City Buzz: Second Burbank H.S. shaken by sex charges

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For the second time in less than a month, a Burbank high school is in the news in connection with a criminal case involving sex charges and underage students. Last Thursday, June 18, Burbank High School Varsity Girls Volleyball Coach, Kyle Roach, was arrested and booked on felony charges of oral copulation with a minor, annoying or molesting a child, and possession of child pornography.

Burbank High School

The Burbank Police Department began an investigation after two students on the volleyball team “… came forward when they began to suspect the communications were coming from their coach,” according to a news release sent out by the Burbank PD. A police report kicked off an investigation by detectives who reportedly discovered evidence “… Roach initiated numerous sexually related text message communications with current members of the Burbank High School Varsity Girls Volleyball Team. Roach used text messages and social media phone applications, anonymously, to solicit nude photos from underage females.”

Also, the release says the police “… investigation resulted in the identification of an additional victim who claims to have had an ongoing sexual relationship with Roach while she was under 18. This victim is now an adult and no longer attends Burbank High School.”

Roach was booked and released on $50,000 bail last Thursday, according to the Burbank Leader.

Burbank High School reaction:

On the same day, Burbank High School Principal, Dr. Michael Bertram, sent out a message to parents. Here is an excerpt:

“While this matter is currently under investigation, some of our students may be questioned by school district and/or police personnel. The other members of the coaching staff are aware of this situation and will resume daily practices and games to maintain the regular schedule.

If you have any information the police should know about, you are encouraged to call the Burbank Police Department at 818-238-3000. If your child is in need of counseling services, you can reach out to the Burbank Family Services Agency at 818-845-7671, or call us at Burbank High School 818-558-4700. Please be assured that we are on top of this situation and the safety and well-being of our students is our primary concern.”

Burroughs High School reaction:

Earlier this month, Deborah Madrigal, principal of John Burroughs High School, had to send out a similar alert due to the arrest of former employee, 23 year-old Clarke Surrey. Here is an excerpt:

“I am calling to inform parents that a former John Burroughs High School employee was arrested by the Burbank Police Department on Friday, June 5th for having inappropriate relations with two former students. The suspect worked as assistant technology director for the Theater Technology Group, which is part of our performing arts programs. According to police, the alleged incidents occurred off campus.

If you have any information the police should know about you are encouraged to call the Burbank Police Department at 818-238-3000. If your child is in need of counseling services, you can reach out to the Burbank Family Services Agency at 818-845-7671 our call us at John Burroughs High School 818-558-4777. Please be assured that the person arrested is not a current employee so there is no danger to our students.”

You don’t have to be a parent to be concerned about two sex case arrests involving two separate Burbank high schools in less than 30 days. Is it a bad coincidence or an indication of something else more disturbing like a flaw in hiring of personnel who work in a student environment?

Burbank School Board vice-president reaction:

Recently, I asked Larry Applebaum, the vice-president of the Burbank School Board and its most senior member, who is responsible for the hiring employees in the district, union and non-union? Here’s the response Applebaum emailed to me.

“For senior management and site level leadership positions, the Superintendent and appropriate Asst Superintendents participate in final interviews prior to making the hiring decision. To get to that point, applicants whom have passed a preliminary paper screening process then are interviewed by two panels, one technical in nature and the other focused on interpersonal skills. Additionally, candidates are given a writing prompt that helps to provide insight into how they might handle a difficult situation in the future. Depending on the position, the panels include staff members, parents, union leadership and/or community members. After the interviews, the panels rank the candidates and pass that information on to the Superintendent, who decides which candidates are strong enough to be asked to the final round of interviews. There have been some instances over the years where there hasn’t been a strong enough candidate in the pool to move on. In those cases, we reopen the application period or simply wait, then re-fly the position at a later date.

Department heads and site leaders are responsible for selecting new hires that they supervise. Like the positions mentioned in the previous paragraph, the candidate pool is created through the efforts of our Human Resources Department, and the positions are filled after an interview (and sometimes a skills test) is conducted by the supervisor. In the case of the Burbank High coach, I haven’t been informed how long that individual has worked for the district, so other than saying he would have been hired by the principal, I’m not sure who actually hired him, since we have had 3 principals at BHS over the past 5 years. In the JBHS case of a few weeks back, while the actual hire would have had to have been approved by the site principal, my sense is the individual was recommended for hire by the technical theatre arts teacher, and agreed to by the principal when it was brought forward. The same holds true as far as identifying which principal hired him, since there have been 3 principals at that school over the past 4 years.

Finally, I want to assure you that we maintain a rigorous hiring process that includes criminal background checks, Livescan fingerprint processing, and thorough reference checks for any employee whom has regular contact with students, be they teachers, classified staff, administrators, and yes, even Board members.”

Clearly, the BUSD has hiring procedures in place. The question is were they followed in the hiring of Surrey and Roach? If so, perhaps the hiring process needs some tweaking. In any event, the hiring practices of the district should be reviewed carefully in light of the two arrests.

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