District defends the steps it took after InvestigateWest revealed lack of discipline against accused child predator
By Kelsey Turner / InvestigateWest
Parents are blasting the Tahoma School District’s response to a recent investigation by InvestigateWest that uncovered the district’s negligence in employing Bryan Neyers, a paraeducator who is charged with sexually abusing several students.
“The community is not happy. I’m not happy,” said Hilary Willis, who runs a Facebook group for Tahoma families. “They need to take these accusations and these reports from families and teachers and paraeducators seriously. Do not wait until police get involved. That has been the pattern over and over.”
As a paraeducator, Neyers worked with elementary school students in special education classrooms and day care programs throughout the district in Maple Valley, a suburb southeast of Seattle. Newly obtained records show that despite co-workers alerting administrators to dozens of instances of his unprofessional behavior, including close relationships with young boys, Neyers remained employed at the district for nearly five years until his arrest in April 2020.
In a $3.9 million settlement of a sexual abuse lawsuit filed on behalf of one of the young boys allegedly abused by Neyers, the Tahoma School District admitted it was negligent in its employment of Neyers. Yet on Aug. 17, responding to backlash from the InvestigateWest article published 10 days earlier, the Tahoma School Board and Superintendent Mike Hanson sent an email to the Tahoma community defending the district’s handling of the situation.
“There were multiple meetings with the accused individual that resulted in letters of direction and verbal warnings, both of which are early steps for correcting concerning behaviors and consistent with progressive discipline obligations owed by the District to its employees,” the email said.
Tahoma parents immediately pushed back against the district for avoiding meaningful action and deflecting responsibility.
Elizabeth Christie, a mother whose two children attended Rock Creek Elementary School where Neyers was employed, said the school board’s email is a dishonest communication that underplays the district’s failure to thoroughly investigate Neyers’ behavior.
“It was clear that there was grooming behavior that was happening and inappropriate conduct that was happening,” Christie said. “So when you see a letter from the school district of this nature, you know that what they’re trying to communicate to the community and to the parents is inaccurate.”
The school board and Superintendent Hanson declined phone interviews with InvestigateWest.
Kobi Brock, a parent and former Tahoma School District paraeducator who raised several concerns about Neyers to administrators before his arrest, said she wasn’t surprised by the school board’s email.
“I was really saddened that once again, their decision was to admit to light hand-slapping and to not take any decisive action,” Brock said. “There’s never an apology. There’s never an ownership of ‘We made a mistake. We need to get better.’ That goes a long way with people.”
Neyers awaits trial on Sept. 5., facing rape and molestation charges involving four boys in the district. Each boy was between 5 and 9 years old at the time Neyers allegedly abused him, with the earliest case dating back to 2014.
The school board’s email acknowledged the pain caused by reports of sexual abuse within the district. In addition to listing action steps taken since Neyers’ arrest in 2020, the message reinforced the district’s commitment to hold staff to the “highest standard in regard to student safety.”
The publicly elected school board is responsible for setting the district’s policies and procedures. The district has had a policy in place since 2010 detailing how school staff should respond to boundary invasions between staff members and students. After Neyers’ arrest, the district revised the policy to further clarify how investigations, documentation and discipline for boundary invasion complaints are handled. It also updated policies and procedures prohibiting sexual harassment of students and addressing child abuse and neglect.
In addition to policy revisions, the district has expanded staff training on sexual harassment and on employees’ roles as mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse, according to the district’s public relations director, A.J. Garcia.
“The School Board’s expectation is that the district takes any allegation of abuse and sexual misconduct seriously and fully investigates any allegation,” said Pete Miller, the board’s president, in a written statement to InvestigateWest.
But Tahoma parent Heidi Padilla wants to see administrators put these promises into action before her faith in the district will be restored. Padilla said she has approached administrators several times with concerns about her own children’s safety but feels her concerns were dismissed.
“They do not take any report seriously,” she said. “Because if you took the report seriously, then it would have stopped when that staff member spoke up years ago with Bryan Neyers.”
A few days before the school board’s email went out, Tahoma parent Amanda Gates emailed Hanson and the school board urging them to take “immediate and decisive action” to protect student safety, citing InvestigateWest’s reporting. She called for the firing of administrators who failed to properly investigate complaints about Neyers and for a review of district policies relating to staff conduct.
Gates met with district leadership to discuss her concerns. In a joint email response after the meeting, Garcia and Gates told InvestigateWest that everyone “left with a shared understanding that Amanda’s concerns were heard” and that Gates “is confident in District leadership to move forward in its decision-making to do what we believe is in the best interest of every student, family and our staff.”
Christie and other parents, however, continue worrying about their children’s safety.
“Our kids know. They know the destruction that was caused by Bryan. And there’s no amount of money that’s ever going to change that,” Christie said. “The fact that nobody lost their jobs over this and all they had to do was training really calls into question how much they truly care about the children in this school district.”
FEATURED IMAGE: Bryan Neyers worked at Glacier Park Elementary School for several years as a paraeducator, supervising kids at recess and in child care programs. Despite co-workers approaching school and district administrators about Neyers’ close relationships with students, Neyers continued working with kids. He now awaits trial on Sept. 5 on charges of molesting and raping young boys in his care. (Scott Eklund/InvestigateWest)
InvestigateWest (invw.org) is an independent news nonprofit dedicated to investigative journalism in the Pacific Northwest. Reporter Kelsey Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s 24-hour Resource Line is available seven days a week with free, confidential help and information at 1-888-99-VOICE (1-888-998-6423). More resources are available at www.kcsarc.org.