Wearing blue shirts and carrying signs, more than a dozen people attended the Omaha school board meeting Monday to show support for a former Davis Middle School student sexually assaulted by her teacher.
Blue, they said, is the favorite color of Anna, who was groomed and then assaulted by then-math teacher Brian Robeson.
Pinned on their shirts were teal ribbons representing sexual assault awareness.
Anna is not the young woman’s real name; The World-Herald doesn’t name victims of sexual abuse unless they want to be.
Ronda Rankin, one of the supporters, told the board that the Davis principal should be removed.
Rankin paraphrased a World-Herald article, recounting details of the abuse suffered by Anna.
Anna, now 18, recently told The World-Herald about how, starting when she was 12, Robeson assaulted her outside of school, in his classroom during lunch, in a computer lab and in a restroom. Robeson was caught by accident by a neighbor who surprised him in the girl’s home. He is in prison.
Rankin said that despite staff concerns about Robeson’s behavior, the principal and human resources officials responded to him with “slaps on the wrist at best.”
The principal failed to lead, she said.
“I’d like to recommend to the board for the removal of this principal in his position at Davis Middle School because of his inability to protect children,” she said.
She asked board members what the Omaha Public Schools have done to support Anna and her family and help them in the healing process.
“Have they reached out to the family to apologize? Will OPS offer to provide the financing of much-needed medical expenses?”
The board members did not respond to the comments, which were made during the public comment period.
The Rev. David Korth, a pastor who has been working with Anna and her parents, told the board that he didn’t hold the members responsible for the abuse.
But he said Anna and her family were “revictimized” last year in the legal process.
He said that during Anna’s deposition, OPS lawyers tried to make it seem like she should have known better.
“Shame on OPS for allowing that to happen,” Korth said. “Try to imagine if the Catholic Church, in all of the negative press that we have had on sexual abuse, had lawyers representing them revictimize victims. The public outcry that we would be hearing — it would be deafening.”
He urged the board to help the family.
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Anna said in an interview that she’s been surprised by the reaction to the story.
When the news of Robeson’s arrest broke in 2015, people blamed her and her parents online and called her names.
On Monday night, people were speaking on her behalf at the meeting.
The grooming began in the 2013-14 school year, when Anna was in seventh grade.
During her two years at the school, numerous staff members reported concerns to the principal about Robeson’s behavior with girls, including Anna. One teacher reported Robeson to the state child abuse hotline.
Anna and Robeson were never separated, and school officials never launched a formal investigation to find out what was going on with them.
Anna’s parents said they were never contacted by school officials and were astonished when they found out about the concerns repeatedly raised by staff. In July 2017, Anna’s parents sued the school district, Principal Dan Bartels, Robeson and unnamed administrators.
On Nov. 1, a federal judge sided with OPS officials, ruling that they should not be second-guessed and that they didn’t ignore the signs. Anna and her parents intend to appeal the ruling.
The district declined the newspaper’s request to interview OPS officials, including Bartels, and instead released a statement. The district said its staff acted responsively and professionally at all times.
Anna is now a college student, studying to become a teacher.
The World-Herald has been examining educator sexual misconduct in Nebraska in an occasional series on the topic.
On Sunday, it published the findings of its investigation into the scope of the problem.
Since the beginning of 2014, at least 56 certified educators were caught in inappropriate sexual contact or communication with students.
Their misconduct ranged from sexual intercourse with a student to dinner and a movie with a student.
There were at least 74 victims of those perpetrators. Some of the victims were abused prior to 2014.