Invisible no more

After years of alleged mishandling, police say allegations of abuse at I Have a Dream Foundation will now be investigated

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Editor’s note: Over the past several weeks, Boulder Weekly has reached out repeatedly to various persons at the I Have a Dream Foundation of Boulder County (IHDF) for comment on this story. We have requested (via phone and email) to meet with IHDF’s President and CEO Lori Canova, former Board Chair Kristen Solomon as well as the IHDF employee who has been accused of improper behavior by parents with children in the IHDF program.

We received no response from the employee in question. Canova and Solomon both declined to meet with us in person to answer questions, requesting written questions via email instead. We explained that BW, on investigative news stories, does not allow its reporters to conduct interviews by email. There are many reasons for this position, including not being able to verify who is actually answering the emailed questions or who may have had input into the questioning process. It is also difficult via email to get confirmation on whose signatures are on documents or to confirm who within an organization saw which documents, etc.

We also explained to Canova that we understood that she could not discuss personnel issues, and we assured her we had many other questions concerning her and the Foundation’s actions that did not fall under the category of personnel.

In the end, Canova stopped returning calls and emails nearly two months ago and, on June 19, issued the following statement in an email to BW as her final response to our request to meet and discuss allegations of abuse concerning IHDF:

“Our number one priority is to champion the advancement of youth from low-income communities to empower them to reach their education and career goals through mentoring, tutoring and cultural enrichment opportunities. Our entire staff works hard every day to meet that goal. We are committed to constant improvement with the thousands of children and parents we have served over the past 28 years, and we are very proud of our record of success. I’m pleased to share that in our most recent survey sent to parents involved in our program, the parents overwhelmingly reported that they were pleased with our program. If a parent has a concern about the program, we take it seriously and work constructively to promptly resolve the concern. Due to confidentiality, I cannot comment on specific parent concerns or personnel matters. I can confirm, however, that we have no evidence of any child in our program being harmed in any way. Although you have not provided any specifics with respect to the matter you wanted to ask about, I assume this may involve allegations raised in 2015 by a few parents. Assuming that is correct, I can share that others investigated these allegations, including the Lafayette Police Department and the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, and none of those investigations corroborated or substantiated any allegation of misconduct.”

Prior to going to press, Boulder Weekly informed Canova of additional information that conflicted with her statement and gave her the opportunity to issue a new statement. We held the paper past press time but received no response.

After reaching former Board Chair Solomon by phone, requesting a meeting and explaining BW’s position on emailing questions, Solomon asked if she could call us back later. The next day she texted, “I have nothing further to add to the response provided on June 19th from I Have a Dream’s CEO.”

We asked Solomon to reconsider but she did not respond. 

Through email and phone calls we have requested to speak with current IHDF Board Chair Allen Ginsborg as well as numerous other members of the current IHDF board. None of our calls or emails were returned prior to press time.

We have also attempted to meet with persons who were working at IHDF during the time in question only to have them agree to meet with us and then inexplicably break off all contact with us.

Also, on two occasions — when we contacted Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) school board member Richard Garcia and BVSD Chief Communications Officer Randy Barber — both were already aware of our investigation even before our initial contact with them. During a sit-down interview, Garcia told BW that Canova had contacted him ahead of BW regarding our investigation.

Because BW strives for fairness in reporting, we would prefer to publish this story having had the opportunity to speak with and present information from IHDF employees, executives and board members, but that did not occur by their choice.

We want to assure our readers that we have made every possible effort, for months in some cases, to give all persons involved in this story the space necessary to provide their version of events or to dispute or clarify any of the allegations concerning them or their organizations.

BW will continue to make space available in the future for any of those who have chosen not to speak with us prior to the publication of this article but may desire to do so at a later date. 

End of Editor’s note.

“In the affluent Boulder County community, there are ‘invisible,’ impoverished communities whose young people face tremendous obstacles to academic and life success.” So reads the opening line of the “overview” section of the website of I Have a Dream Foundation of Boulder County (IHDF).

This description of the Foundation’s work goes on to stress that “the ultimate goal of ‘I Have a Dream’ is to provide the youth it serves with the necessary support and trusting relationships they need to close the achievement gap with their more affluent peers and complete high school prepared for higher education and a fulfilling career.”

There is no doubt that this well-respected nonprofit organization — whose popularity is evidenced by its ability to raise millions of dollars each year from hundreds of influential individual and business donors within the Boulder County community — has done much good, particularly for the low-income Latino youth who comprise more than 80 percent of the program’s participants.

IHDF’s success has been amplified through its close partnerships with local institutions including the St. Vrain  Valley (SVVSD) and Boulder Valley (BVSD) school districts and Community Foundation Boulder County.

But in April this year, Boulder Weekly reporters sat in a living room in Lafayette, Colorado, and with the help of an interpreter, listened to a very different story about IHDF.

The small living room was filled with nearly a dozen, mostly Spanish-speaking parents of children who were either currently attending, or had, in the last few years, stopped attending one particular IHDF class, which is currently being conducted at BVSD’s Centaurus High School in Lafayette. For the purposes of this article going forward, this group of Lafayette parents will simply be referred to as “the parents.”

The reason for our meeting that night can best be described as desperation on the part of the parents. The families simply felt they had nowhere else to turn. They told BW they had exhausted every avenue they could think of to tell those running the IHDF program, along with other authorities, that they believed their children had been emotionally, and in some instances physically, abused and otherwise mistreated by a particular IHDF employee.

After listening to the parents’ stories at that first April meeting — stories told through tears and anger that belied the many months that had passed since their journey began — their waning hope seemed understandable.

For approximately three and a half years, these families had been making their allegations known to any and everyone who would listen. The parents claim they had on multiple occasions told both IHDF’s CEO Lori Canova and the members of the Foundation’s Board of Directors about their allegations of mistreatment. Letters and other documents provided to BW as well as police incident reports from late 2017 that BW has in its possession appear to corroborate this claim.

The parents also claim they informed BVSD administrators at both Angevine Middle School and Centaurus High School, as well as BVSD Board Member Richard Garcia, of the alleged abuse. They even went to the Lafayette Police Department and eventually then-District Attorney Stan Garnett in late 2017.

Yet despite all of the parents’ ongoing efforts, it now appears that no legally authorized outside agency ever interviewed the children, the accused IHDF employee, other IHDF personnel who worked with the employee, Canova, former IHDF Board Chair Kristen Solomon, Garcia or in any other way investigated the parents’ allegations of mistreatment and abuse during the past three and a half years.

Since both the Lafayette police and the former DA have told BW that they never investigated the parents’ allegations, that means that the only “investigation” of the allegations ever conducted between 2014 and now, according to IHDF correspondence with the parents, was a purported internal investigation conducted by the accused Foundation itself and what was referred to by IHDF as an “outside review,” which the Foundation’s letter to the parents described as a member of the community along with an unnamed individual from the University of Colorado being asked by IHDF to sit in and observe a few classes wherein the accused employee was working.

This lack of an independent investigation by a legally authorized outside agency seems somewhat surprising considering that the allegations of abuse by the parents  — according to police reports and letters of complaints written by the children and their parents that were given to IHDF — include claims of children being punished by being made to stay on a hot bus without ventilation in summer; children being grabbed by their shoulders and shaken; and a student being pulled “violently” backwards by their backpack in 2015 leaving red marks on their arms and pain in their shoulders while being screamed at by the employee.

Copies of the police reports and letters examined by BW are also full of other complaints of mistreatment as well — from constant yelling at the children that allegedly left them stressed and frightened to various accounts of students being treated in a fashion that humiliated them in front of their peers, all of which made them want to leave the program, and more.

There was one other item of note by students and the parents that makes multiple appearances in the documents, including the police reports. There is an oft-repeated claim that the accused IHDF employee on more than one occasion told the students that it wasn’t possible for the employee to be fired from IHDF. 

So despite Colorado state law (see sidebar at end of article) which requires immediate, mandatory reporting of any suspected child abuse to either local law enforcement and/or the local child welfare agency, in this case Boulder County Housing and Human Services (BCHHS), none of the persons or organizations informed of the allegations by the parents over the years ever did so — with the exception of one BVSD high school vice principal who called police in August 2017, more than two years after parents and students claim they had first reported many of their allegations to IHDF.

At the time, the phone call to police was to no avail — due to what the Lafayette Police Department recently admitted was an error of judgment on its part that resulted in no investigation of the families’ allegations — the call may yet prove a decisive factor for all involved.

In recent days, due to Boulder Weekly’s contact with the Lafayette Police Department concerning this case, the Department told BW that it had discovered the allegations had been improperly categorized by the department at the time, which led the officers in charge to mistakenly believe the statute of limitations on the alleged abuse had already expired. It was a technicality that led the Department to close the case without actually investigating the families’ claims. 

As of last week, Lafayette police told BW that the alleged incidents are now being properly recategorized as “child abuse,” which carries a five-year statute of limitations rather than the 18 months under the original mistaken classification of assault. This correction by Lafayette police will allow the Department to finally launch a full investigation into the families’ allegations. However, the police caution that due to the significant passage of time since the alleged abuse was said to have occurred and was allegedly first brought to the attention of IHDF, the investigation will now be much more difficult than it would have been had the allegations been reported to law enforcement authorities or BCHHS at the time they first became known.

After being informed that the case has been reopened by Lafayette Police Department, BVSD’s Chief Communications Officer, Randy Barber, provided BW with the following statement which was delivered to us through email:

“When the allegation was brought to our attention, the Boulder Valley School District reported it immediately to law enforcement, as required by law. We understand that the case, which was previous closed, has now been reopened, and will respond accordingly if new information is revealed through this investigation by law enforcement.

“While no BVSD employees are involved in this case, out of caution we have asked our partners at the I Have A Dream Foundation to keep anyone involved in the case from working with students, until this issue is resolved.”

It has been a long road to this point.

While some readers may wonder why the parents, in some instances, would still allow their children to attend the same class with the same IHDF employee they have accused if their claims of abusive behavior are true, such a question fails to understand what the IHDF program represents for low-income Latino families. In many, if not most instances, IHDF represents the best hope for these parents to ever see their children go to college; it is one of the few opportunities for their kids to ever break the cycle of economic hardship.

This is why giving up on their children’s IHDF program has been so difficult for the families in question. It is also why the parents feel so outraged and harmed. They do not view what they claim has happened as simply a difficult circumstance, they say they view it as a negative, potentially life-altering tragedy that may well impact their children for the rest of their lives, having ended their opportunity for a college education. 

The parents and children — whose identities BW has agreed to protect due to their fear of retaliation, a fear which for some is exacerbated by their immigration status — have long felt betrayed, unheard and ignored.

The very program that promised them “trusting relationships” to lift their children to success, stands accused, in the words of one parent, of “making us more invisible than ever.” And they think they know why.

These families are clear that they do not believe their allegations of abuse would have been so easily ignored by so many for so long had their skin had been white instead of brown.

The Dream

The concept behind IHDF is a proven one. Give a group of young, low-income students the incentive of a college scholarship if they stay in school and graduate high school with adequate grades, and many will do just that. More specifically, under the program a class of 50 low-income students called “dreamers,” is put together under the guidance of an IHDF program director when the students are in second and third grade. The program director is charged with multiple responsibilities, which, according to the IHDF website, include maintaining personal relationships with the Dreamer Scholars and their families, serving as a support and resource for academic and personal problems, providing referrals to other agencies to meet overall family needs and serving as a liaison between Dreamer Scholars and their families and schools.

Each of the Dreamer classes begins in elementary school and stays together through middle and high school, preferably with the same program director leading the entire 10-year experience.

Each Dreamer class is financially supported by specific donors to IHDF. According to IHDF materials, the cost for a donor to support an entire class beginning to end is approximately $1.2 million. For one student a donor can pledge $3,000 per year or roughly $30,000 over the course of the entire program through graduation. Obviously, donors are critical to the program’s success.

For the parents in Lafayette who met with BW, the first signs of discontent with their IHDF program appeared in 2014 following an unexpected and unexplained change in their children’s program director.

As a result of this change, according to the parents, between 30 and 50 parents in their IHDF class demanded a meeting with Canova to voice their concerns over the loss of the program director and IHDF’s decision to combine their class with another already existing class of Dreamers.

There were no allegations of abuse at this time, simply complaints resulting from the sudden changes in the program.

The parents claim that by 2015 their children were telling them that they did not like the way they were being treated by the accused IHDF employee who worked in their new class.

BW has examined letters written by students and their parents in early 2016 describing their alleged mistreatment. The letters were given to Canova in early 2016. Most of the complaints have to do with what the letters describe as excessive yelling at the children, who also claim they were being treated differently and worse than the kids from the class with which they had been merged. Some of the letters examined by BW, however, do contain allegations of what the police reports would later describe as accusations of “abuse and assault.”

Based on BW’s interviews and an examination of documents related to this case, the first known allegation of physical abuse reported to IHDF was in spring 2015 and was in regard to a seventh grader who claimed that they were “violently” pulled backwards by their backpack while being yelled at by the IHDF employee as they tried to go meet their mother outside Angevine Middle School.

Because this was the first, though not necessarily the most serious, allegation of abuse, we will take the time here to report it from the viewpoint of all of the available source materials we have found over the course of this investigation.

The earliest allegations

The earliest written account of the alleged backpack incident can be found in a letter written by the alleged seventh-grade victim in March of 2016. As it pertains to this alleged incident, the student wrote (all items in brackets added by BW):

“Once I was in a hurry because I had to be somewhere after dreamers and she [the accused IHDF employee] stopped me and was screaming at me for some reason (I don’t know why). I asked her if she could tell me tomorrow or some other day and walked out the door because my mom told me to hurry — and she pulled me by the backpack really violently and screamed at me to never leave her speaking alone.”

The student’s letter concerning the backpack incident and other letters containing allegations of mistreatment written by children were first given to BVSD Board Member Richard Garcia in March 2016. Garcia was elected to the school board in November 2015 and the parents told BW they called Garcia because he was considered an activist in the Latino community and they believed he could help them. According to the parents, Garcia told them he believed their allegations were substantial and that he would personally take their letters to Canova and tell her that the parents wanted the accused employee terminated from IHDF.

According to the parents, in both interviews and the written statements they prepared in 2016, the more than 20 parents who had come together over the issue of alleged abuse at that time requested Garcia also ask Canova to meet with them as a group rather than individually. (Several of the parents have expressed to BW that they are too fearful and intimidated to have one-on-one meetings with IHDF officials.) The parents claim Garcia returned and told them Canova would meet with them as a group but that she would not consider terminating the employee in question. According to one of the written statements by a parent concerning these events, “by no means was she [Canova] going to dismiss [name of accused employee] from the program.”

The written statement goes on to say, “As parents we were disappointed and frustrated, so we didn’t want to have any meeting because what we demanded was [accused employee’s] dismissal, of which she [Canova] was steadfast in not dismissing her.”

In a recent interview with BW regarding this story, Garcia claimed that he could not remember many of the details of his meetings with the parents. He did say of the complaints, “For me in my mind, they didn’t reach to the level of child abuse.”

He also confirmed to BW he did deliver the parents’ complaints and their letters to Canova and told her that the parents demanded the employee be fired. According to Garcia, Canova told him at that time that IHDF would not fire the accused employee. When BW asked Garcia why he thought Canova would make such a firm decision before any of the written allegations had been examined or investigated by IHDF or a legally authorized outside agency, he simply shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know. Garcia also told BW that he does recall the allegations regarding the backpack incident being one of the parents’ concerns at that time.

According to correspondence dated April 6, 2016 between IHDF and various parents whose children had written letters, Canova explained to the parents the actions she claims her organization took in response to all the allegations by parents and students, which would have included the alleged backpack incident.

The letters from Canova, which were written to different parents but were identical in content, state the following:

“After hearing about these concerns, per our policy, I conducted both an internal and external review to look into this further… Internally, we interviewed and talked with Dreamers, staff, volunteers, AmeriCorps members, teachers, counselors and the principal at the school [this would have been Mike Medina at Angevine Middle School]. In addition, the Vice President of Programs, Health and Wellness Coordinator, and three other Program Directors visited the after-school program to share their observations with me regarding the concerns. Externally, a representative from the University of Colorado came several times to observe the program regarding the concerns that were brought to our attention.

“After doing this internal and external review regarding the complaints brought to my attention, we have come to the conclusion that there is nothing that would warrant a change in personnel, as some of you had requested.”

Note that Canova uses the term “I conducted” for both the internal and external review, indicating that both reviews were under IHDF’s purview as opposed to an independent outside agency.

The parents told BW that they have asked IHDF for a copy of the report they say the organization has claimed it produced from the above investigations, but to date, they have never been allowed to see the report or obtain a copy.

Mandatory reporting

There are reasons why day care centers, schools or other programs that care for children like IHDF train all of their employees on the legal requirements of mandatory reporting (see sidebar). In IHDF’s case, according to former employees, the Foundation’s mandatory reporting training is provided by BVSD.

Immediately reporting something such as an alleged physical assault on a child by an adult to police, BCHHS or through the statewide hotline as required by law makes good sense. Most nonprofits working with kids have no expertise in criminal investigations, not to mention the obvious potential conflicts of interest in allowing any organization to investigate itself and then declare itself and its employees innocent of the alleged offenses, which, if substantiated, would likely cause embarrassment, loss in donations or even criminal charges against the organization and/or its employees.

This is why the law has set out substantial criminal penalties for anyone who has a reason to even suspect that an act of abuse may have occurred to a child yet fails to report that suspicion to one or both of the two authorized agencies required under the law.

Doing an internal investigation along with an investigation by an authorized outside agency seems like a good idea, but such an internal investigation would not nullify the requirements of the law to notify the proper authorities when there is any reason to suspect potential abuse.

“My obligation as a mandatory reporter is not met until I make the call to the hotline or to the county. Or I sit with the supervisor and hear my supervisor make my call,” said Minna Castillo Cohen, director of the Colorado Office of Children Youth and Families during a recent interview. “You either have to do it yourself or witness it happening to meet your legal obligations.” 

When asked specifically if an internal investigation does not fulfill mandatory reporting requirements, Castillo Cohen answered, “Correct. That can be done independently.”

Obviously, mandatory reporting is only required if the person witnessing or being made aware of allegations of abuse believes that they rise to that level.   

The parents, who speak primarily Spanish and acknowledge having no understanding of Colorado’s laws pertaining to child abuse, tell BW they’ve never heard of the child abuse hotline or knew they could report their allegations to BCHHS. And as with many first-generation immigrants in this day and age, they have been hesitant to go to law enforcement.

But not knowing where to turn next did not mean that the parents had given up. A full year and four months passed following Canova’s letter telling the families that their claims had no merit based on the Foundation’s investigation of itself before the parents reached out to IHDF again.

According to a letter dated Aug. 17, 2017 from Solomon, IHDF Board Chair at that time, to one of the parents, a phone call had been made by the parents requesting a meeting between parents and the IHDF Board of Directors to discuss the allegations from 2015-16.

In the letter, Solomon’s response states, “I am writing on behalf of the I Have a Dream Boulder County Board of Directors in response to your phone call requesting to meet to discuss the parent concerns originally brought to our organization’s attention in 2016 regarding the [name withheld] Dreamer Class.

“The Board again reviewed the actions taken nearly one and a half years ago in response to these concerns. We take all allegations of this nature seriously, including the ones you and others raised in 2016. As a result of those allegations, the organization took a variety of actions to investigate the matter…” At this point Solomon’s letter lists off the exact same description of the “internal” and “external” review process that was stated in Canova’s April 6, 2016 letter to parents and reported in full earlier in this story.

Solomon goes on to say that based on IHDF’s investigation, “we concluded that there was no basis to terminate the employment of the staff member, as you requested. In the intervening year and a half, we have received no information to support a different conclusion.”

Solomon’s letter is important for a couple of reasons. First, it confirms that the entire IHDF Board of Directors had been aware of all of the allegations of abuse and mistreatment since at least 2016. By her use of the words “again reviewed,” Solomon seems to confirm that the Board in place in 2016 had reviewed all of the parents’ and children’s allegations, which would have included the alleged backpack assault.

This prior knowledge would of course be contingent on Canova having provided the Board with all of the letters and allegations that had been made known to her.

This acknowledgment of the IHDF Board’s involvement is also important because for many years the nonprofit has had high-ranking representatives from both BVSD and SVVSD. Since the parents allegations were first leveled until present, BVSD’s Assistant Superintendent of School Leadership Sandy Riplinger has been on the IHDF Board.

So as early as 2016, according to Solomon’s letter, BVSD and SVVSD administrators were apparently aware of allegations of emotional and physical abuse at IDHF. It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which members of the Board were also not aware that the allegations had not been reported to any outside agency such as the police or BCHHS for investigation.

This connection to the IHDF board would not be the last time that BVSD was made fully aware of abuse allegations against IHDF’s employee in question.

Try and try again

The parents were not ready to go quietly, despite their sense that no one was listening to their concerns.

Joel Dyer

In 2017, the IHDF class in question had moved from Angevine to Centaurus High School. That meant the parents had new BVSD administrators to whom they could report their allegations regarding the accused employee.

According to police reports, on Aug. 30, 2017, one of the parents told Centaurus Vice Principal Augusto Di Laura that his child had been assaulted by a teacher approximately a year and half earlier while attending Angevine.

According to the report written in first person by the officer, “[The parent] told Mr. Di Laura his [child] was at Angevine when [the child] was outside walking away from the teacher. The teacher grabbed [the child’s] backpack and pulled [the child] back, causing red marks and pain to her shoulders.

“I asked Mr. Di Laura if he knew if it was reported to Angevine when this occurred and he stated that [the parent] told him that he did report it to Mr. Medina [the Angevine principal]. Mr. Di Laura stated he spoke with Mr. Medina and Mr. Medina does not recall ever getting this report to him about a teacher possibly assaulting a student.”

The police report goes on to say that the officer went to Angevine to speak with Medina but he had already gone home for the day. The report also says that the officer did not speak to the alleged victim or the accused IHDF employee.

This report seems significant in that it claims that the parent alleges he told Angevine Principal Medina about the backpack incident. But the report also says Medina told Di Laura that he had never heard of this backpack assault. In letters from IHDF, both Canova and Solomon claim that when IHDF did its own internal investigation of this and other allegations of abuse in 2016, they interviewed Medina regarding this matter. It seems that either IHDF failed to interview Medina about the backpack incident as it has claimed, or Medina’s answer to Di Laura’s inquiry raises more questions than it answers. When BW contacted Medina to ask him about this alleged incident and the apparent discrepancy regarding the IHDF investigation and the other allegations made by the parents, he told BW via email, “I have no knowledge of this matter. I will refer all questions to BVSD’s Communications Office.”

Following the initial visit in August 2017 by the police officer to talk to Vice Principal Di Laura, nearly two full months, according to the report, passed before the Lafayette Police Department did any follow-up on this case.

We should note that Di Laura’s swift mandatory reporting of this alleged assault is the only time over the entire span since the parents first alleged abuse in 2015 that anyone reported the allegations to outside authorities as prescribed under Colorado law.

The information given to Di Laura that prompted his call to police even knowing the alleged incident had occurred a year and a half earlier, was essentially the same information that the alleged victim had provided to IHDF in their letter in early 2016.

According to police reports, on Oct. 26, 2017, a different officer assigned to the case contacted the parent and asked if he still wanted to press charges against the accused IHDF employee.

The parent told the officer he would talk to his wife and get back to him.

Later that day, according to the report, the officer spoke with the alleged victim and the child’s parents. The child retold the same story about being pulled backwards by her backpack by the accused employee.

The officer again asked if the student and their father wanted to press charges against the accused employee. They said they would think about it and get back to the officer.

According to the report, the next day, Oct. 27, 2017, the officer spoke to the “Principal at Centaurus” who told the officer, “When he spoke to [the accused employee’s] supervisor Laurie (sic) [Canova], she told him that they had this reported to her a couple years ago when it happened. Laurie (sic) told the principal that she investigated it internally and had a third party investigate it as well and it was unfounded.”

The police report goes on to describe how on Oct. 31, 2017, at 11 a.m., the student’s father told the officer that he did want to press charges against the accused employee for the alleged assault.

The report then goes on to say that on Nov. 2, 2017, at 9:30 a.m., the officer asked the father when exactly the alleged assault occurred. A few minutes later the father informed the officer that it was between March and May of 2015. The father also then told the officer that he and the other parents had called the Lafayette police the day before (Nov. 1, 2017) and had met with them and that all the parents had pressed charges against the accused IHDF employee.

The report concludes by noting that at 2 p.m. on Nov. 2, 2017, less than 24 hours after the father and other parents had finally decided to press charges, the officer called and informed the father that he had spoken with his supervisor about the alleged incident and that “we decided that the incident was past the statute of limitations.”

Once again, the police never spoke to the accused employee, any of the students in the employee’s class or any other IHDF employees or volunteers. In short, the police had closed the case on the alleged backpack assault before they had ever investigated it. Not, apparently, because it wasn’t a serious or credible allegation, but simply because no one, not the parents nor anyone at IHDF or BVSD, had brought it to their attention in time. The parents told BW they were unaware that there was such a thing as a statute of limitations. It was one more disappointment that felt unfair to them.

Mixed messages

So what about the other allegations made by the other parents who also pressed charges on Nov. 1, 2017?

According to the police report, “Upon arrival, several families asked police take a report in regards to child abuse that occurred at Angevine Middle School by a ‘I Have a Dream’ [employee]. The families stated the staff at the school has ignored their complaints and stated that [the accused employee] has told the victims that she cannot be fired.”

The following are some of the allegations made by some of the parents to police on Nov. 1, 2017 (translated by police from Spanish):

Parent 1: “One of the punishments, they were left inside of a school bus in the middle of summer for 15-20 minutes.”

Parent 2: “On one occasion my son [name withheld] was intimidated and threatened by telling him if on another occasion he behaved badly he would be placed on the school bus as a punishment. [Name withheld] personally informed me, one of the punishments she could do to my son [name withheld] was to take him and put him on the school bus. One of the punishments was to take away his Christmas presents in December 2016.”

Parent 3: “On one occasion he was forced to sit on the floor, obligating him to eat his snack, telling him to eat it like a dog.

“In the summer of 2015 my son was disciplined by shutting him in a bus without ventilation with very high temperatures for a period of 15 min.

“We later contacted [name withheld] and he commented my case was for the jail, but later he did nothing regarding my case.”

Parent 4: “My son was assaulted physically when he was grabbed and shaken by the shoulders, and was also yelled at. This happened approximately in 2015. And once again in February 2016 was assaulted verbally and intimidated. And one summer they were left on the bus with very high temperatures for 15 min. as punishment, summer of 2015.”

Parent 5: “My son [name withheld] was assaulted physically by [name withheld] when he was pulled by his arm. This occurred February-March of the 2015-2016 school year. His dad went to complain directly to [name withheld] and her answer to him was, the children would not listen to her and stressed her out.”

Parent 6: “My daughter was punished inside of a school bus, in the summer without ventilation for 15 minutes. My daughter arrived home very stressed and tired, affecting her due to the punishment given by [name withheld] by leaving them on the bus… My daughter was also witness to how [name withheld] would humiliate the kids, how she would scream at them. And would also tell them not to speak in Spanish, my daughter took this as racism. This is why my daughter [name withheld] has not attended the ‘I Have a Dream’ program, and has disinterest of what she experienced in the program. As a parent I made the decision to not send my daughter until there is justice with [name withheld]. [Name withheld] also made mention to my daughter she could not be fired from the program, she would yell this to all the kids.”

Parent 7: “On one of the excursions, they were disciplined by leaving them on the bus for more than 20 minutes, without air conditioning, in the summer of 2015. [Name withheld] assured the children she could not be fired from the program.”

The police report also states, “Several of the parents voiced their concerns that they were afraid [the accused IHDF employee] or the school would retaliate… One of the parents voiced concerns that [the accused employee] would never be fired because she has a relationship with one of the ‘I Have a Dream’ executives. [The accused employee] had apparently told students and parents that she could not be fired because of this relationship.”

When BW asked the parents about the accused employee’s alleged claims that she could not be fired back in April, they said they suspected it was because of some relationship with someone at IHDF but they didn’t know whom that might be.

This relationship that the parents allege made it difficult for IHDF to terminate its accused employee is just one of the many things we would have liked to have spoken with Canova, Solomon or any other Board members about — because it at least appears that such a relationship may have existed.

A family member of the accused employee was on the IHDF Board when they were hired in 2012.

In 2014-15, when the parents first began making their allegations of abuse and mistreatment, the family member had left the Board but was still a donor to the Foundation. In addition to personally supporting IHDF, the family member was also president of a $500-million corporation that also financially supported IHDF.

And in a final act of charity — at approximately the same time IHDF was doing its internal investigation into the parents’ allegations — it was announced by IHDF that the family member had become one of the Foundation’s “legacy donors,” meaning they had designated IHDF as a beneficiary in their will and estate plans.

The accused employee’s family member was battling cancer at this time, and passed away on May 18, 2017.

The obituary requested that in lieu of flowers, people donate to IHDF for a college scholarship fund in their name.

One can only imagine the difficulty of having to have put the family through a difficult and public outside investigation into alleged child abuse at a time when they were already dealing with serious illness.

The non-investigation
continues

According to the police report, after the parents’ formal complaints and their agreement to file charges on Nov. 1, 2017 — and the officer telling one of the parents on Nov. 2 that the statute of limitations had already expired — the police took no further actions on any of the parents’ allegations until the week of Nov. 20, 2017. According to the police report, [officer’s name withheld] found the parents’ written statements untranslated from Spanish in the case file.

Next the report says, “As the statements were in Spanish, I had them translated by [name withheld] of the Lafayette Police Department. On Friday, Nov. 24th 2017, I read the translations. There are no allegations in the statements that rise to the level of criminal in nature. I did however forward both translated and Spanish version copies of the statements to the Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) for possible follow up should they see necessary… This case is closed unfounded.”

The last entry of the police report is on Dec. 12, 2017. An officer is asked to call Canova but he has a bad connection and instead goes to meet her in Lafayette.

When the officer arrives to talk to her, he notes that she already has a copy of the police report.

In the report the officer states, “It seemed as if Lori was trying to determine where the investigation was leading the police department. Lori seemed relieved when I advised her that we were finished with this.”

Once again, based on their own reports, police had not actually investigated any of the parents’ allegations of abuse. They did not speak with the accused IHDF employee, nor any of the alleged victims other than the one conversation concerning the backpack incident. They did not ask to see the results of IHDF’s internal investigation.

So in a final act of desperation, the parents went directly to then-District Attorney Stan Garnett.

In an interview with BW, Garnett remembered the case but explained that there was nothing he could do because he is dependent on the police coming to him and asking for charges to be prosecuted.

“Nothing was presented to us that would have been appropriate for us to investigate further,” he told BW.

Although Garnett remembers communicating with the Lafayette Police Department about it, he acknowledges that his office never opened a file or conducted a formal investigation regarding the parents’ allegations of abuse.

Also, he admits that he knows Canova personally, participates in IHDF events and is a donor to the Foundation. Although he knew at the time that IHDF was “concerned with the fact the police were looking at it,” Garnett told BW that as DA he couldn’t speculate about any of the details until he was given evidence for review.

“The devil’s in the details in this kind of a case. You can have allegations of abuse, etc. But some agency needs to look at it, interview people, make a determination about whether there’s evidence to support it and then decide what to do,” he said. “I would imagine the organization would want to review some things as well, but I don’t know.”

BW found it difficult to understand how allegations of children being punished by being made to stay on a hot bus, or a child being grabbed by the shoulders and shaken or a child being yanked backwards by their backpack causing red marks and pain, or another child being yanked by the arm by a person in a position of authority could have been deemed to “not rise to the level of criminal in nature.” So we started calling the Lafayette Police Department and leaving messages.

Case reopened

As stated earlier, Lafayette Police Commander Brian Rosipajla called BW to explain the Department’s position.

He said that after looking up the file and double-checking with the operations commander, the Department “erred in the statute of limitations” by classifying it as an assault misdemeanor instead of a case of child abuse.

“We felt more compelled that it should be a child abuse, which actually extends the statute of limitations to five years and not just a year and six months,” Rosipajla told BW. “We’re going to reactivate the case and have the detectives take a look at everything.”

When asked if his Department ever did a full investigation in 2017, which would have included talking to other students, staff, teachers, the accused IHDF employee etc., as IHDF has told the parents and claim again in their statement to BW, Rosipajla confirmed that the Department did not investigate. Rather, the officers gathered some initial information, but under the statute of limitations issue, couldn’t proceed with an investigation.

“They gathered the information,” he said. “As far as looking into it, yeah, there was a statute of limitation issue, and there wasn’t that much more to be done.”

He couldn’t talk about the specifics of the case given that it deals with child victims, but he did explain that the officers involved felt the next best thing to a police investigation in the case would be to give it to BVSD to look at more thoroughly.

“What the officers and detective sergeant ended up doing was forwarding all the information on to the school so that the school could do their own internal review and internal investigation,” Rosipajla said. “And that’s what they thought was the best approach since we could not handle it under the statute of limitations issue. That way it was still looked into and everything was checked out.”

It’s unclear exactly what action, if any, BVSD took after getting the police report containing the parents’ allegations.

In their written statement and refusal to meet with BW to answer questions regarding the parents’ allegations, IHDF is standing behind a statement that claims “others investigated these allegations, including the Lafayette Police Department and the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office, and none of those investigations corroborated or substantiated any allegation of misconduct.”

IHDF has had copies of the police reports for almost a year, reports that make it clear that the parents’ allegations were never investigated just as the Lafayette police have now clarified and rectified.

The police reports and the statements of Rosipajla make it clear that the allegations were never investigated because the people who apparently knew of their existence never reported them to law enforcement, so by the time police eventually were made aware they incorrectly believed that the statute of limitations had already expired.

The primarily Spanish-speaking parents who have alleged the abuse of their children by an IHDF employee reported their claims to IHDF officials. They told BW they were unaware of who else they should or could tell. Their status as immigrants in our culture left them fearful of retaliation and understandably afraid to go to law enforcement authorities to complain about one of Boulder County’s most powerful and beloved institutions. Under those circumstances, they say they had little choice but to trust that IHDF would do what was best for their kids.

The parents have recently been contacted by officers from the Lafayette Police Department as part of the now-reopened investigation. Still, no one knows what will come of the current ongoing police investigation into the parents’ claims since years have passed and potential evidence will be difficult to come by after so much time.

It is also unclear if anyone will ever be investigated for possibly failing to “mandatory report” alleged child abuse allegations being made by more than a dozen persons against the same individual.

But as of now, these families are no longer invisible. They now have reason to hope their voices have finally been heard.

SIDE BAR

Mandatory reporting in Colorado

Title 19 of the Colorado Revised Statutes outlines how issues relating to child abuse should be handled throughout the state. Anything that threatens the health or welfare of a child is considered child abuse including emotional abuse, failure to thrive and a variety of physical signs of injury that may not be an accidental occurrence. It also includes suspected sexual assault or exploitation of a minor, lack of adequate food, clothing, shelter, medical care or supervision of a child, and the manufacturing of controlled substances in the home or presence of a child. A person should report if they have “reasonable cause to know or suspect” a child is in danger, and cannot be held liable in good faith if the allegations aren’t or can’t be proven.

The state offers free online training about how to recognize and report child abuse, especially for people who are mandatory reporters. BVSD also trains all employees and provides a legal document on its website that addresses mandatory reporting procedures. The list of mandatory reporters includes doctors, firefighters, peace officers and public or private school employees or any worker in a licensed or certified facility. It includes anyone who works with or around children including coaches, facility maintenance personnel and members of the clergy.

According to Colorado state law, anyone who qualifies as a mandatory reporter has to report the incident to either the county department in charge of child welfare (Boulder County Housing and Human Services) or the local law enforcement agency. Calling the statewide child abuse reporting hotline system, which then coordinates with the proper agencies, is also sufficient for reporting. Although employees can also alert supervisors or HR departments of suspected abuse if it involves another staff member, doing so does not absolve them of the responsibility to immediately report it to the proper authorities as well.

There are also penalties for failing to report suspected child abuse to the aforementioned agencies. Failure to report can result in a Class 3 misdemeanor charge, a $750 fine or up to six months in jail. The BVSD mandatory reporting legal document also warns that failure to report “may create liability for you and the School District for any further injuries suffered by the child following a failure to report.” State law also states that this liability includes “damages approximately caused.”