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Parents Say Safety, Support, Communication Among Top Concerns After Teacher Arrest

Police arrested Albany Middle School teacher and coach James Izumizaki on Wednesday morning on suspicion of committing lewd acts upon a child under 14. Police ask anyone with additional or related information to call 510-528-5783.

About 80 parents came together in the Albany Middle School library Thursday evening, in a meeting organized by the school district, to ask district officials about safety, communication and plans for their children's classes in the wake of the arrest of a popular teacher earlier this week.

Police arrested sixth grade teacher and athletic director James Izumizaki on Wednesday morning after allegations arose about the nature of a relationship he had with a former student. Police arrested Izumizaki at his Albany home on suspicion of committing lewd acts upon a minor younger than 14 years old. 

The teacher, who had worked for the district since 2007, is scheduled for arraignment Friday afternoon in a downtown Oakland courtroom. He no longer is in custody, after posting a $100,000 bail sometime between Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

HOW IT UNFOLDED

Albany Unified School District Superintendent Marla Stephenson said Albany High School Principal Ted Barone initially alerted her to the situation Monday. 

"Allegations were brought to me by the high school principal that there was an accusation of improper conduct" regarding Izumizaki, she told parents Thursday. "I looked at the evidence that was presented and I realized it was beyond my scope as a superintendent to do anything more than to protect your students and the teacher by placing him on paid administrative leave."

She said she then reported the matter to the Albany Police Department, as required by law due to her role as a mandated reporter. As of Thursday, Izumizaki had not yet been charged. 

"We want to make sure that, if something did happen, that that person is held accountable and that your children are absolutely safe," Stephenson told parents. "We're in this 'never-never land' of not knowing, but having to act."

She said her decision to place Izumizaki on leave was not an indication that there had been any kind of "rush to judgment," adding that "due process has to unfold."

She said the case could take many months to work its way through the judicial system and that, in the meantime, "we're taking immediate swift action to ensure the educational continuity of your child's program this year." 

CHILDREN STRUGGLE WITH AFTERMATH

Some parents said their children were upset and in tears following Izumizaki's absence and news of his arrest; one mother said her son had asked to leave school because he felt sick as a result of the turmoil. 

(Read advice to families from a local writer and sexologist about how to cope, as a community, with allegations of sexual offenses.)

A school counselor who attended the Thursday evening session, planned by the district to reach out to parents of students in Izumizaki's classes this year, said the arrest had been traumatic for students at the middle school. 

She said students came into the counseling office, alone and in groups, steadily throughout the day Thursday. Teachers walked the halls during passing period to seek out students who seemed upset to help connect them with counselors. 

The school brought extra counseling staff over, from the high school, to help offer support, and school officials said they made sure to let students know about the resources available to them. 

"Everything else was off. We were just looking out for the kids," she said. "We'll be there everyday." 

WHAT WERE STUDENTS TOLD?

Parents wanted to know exactly what teachers had told students about Izumizaki's arrest. District officials said they had distributed talking points, but weren't completely sure what all teachers had communicated. Some parents said there did not seem to have been a consistent message given to their kids. 

Co-Vice Principal Deborah Brill said she told students Izumizaki had been arrested and was on administrative leave, and that the district didn't know more than that.

Middle School Principal Peter Parenti said he asked teachers to discuss with students the difference between rumors, allegations and facts.

"In this day and age of information," he told parents, "it's hard to know what is the truth."

Parents said they were struggling with how to speak with their children, due to the sensitive and uncertain nature of the case, and also because of information being shared and discussed among students themselves and by older siblings at Albany High.  

The district has scheduled a closed session for middle school parents Friday evening to provide parents "with resources to help you support your children through this difficult time." (Learn more here.)

INSUFFICIENT COMMUNICATION TO PARENTS, SAY SOME

Some parents questioned the district's communication strategies as far as how they were informed of the decision about Izumizaki's leave. The district sent parents an email, described by some as "cryptic," near 5 p.m. Wednesday. Some parents said they never got the email or didn't receive it until Thursday morning. Parents suggested that phone calls and hard copy letters may have been more effective. 

Parents also asked about outreach to other members of the school community, given the number of students, from past years as well as those who would have known Izumizaki from his coaching work, who also would have been affected by the news. 

Stephenson said the district plans to reach out to everyone, but that current parents were her first priority because of changes in the class schedules of their children. 

"Albany School District is a family," she said. "And we all know each other. And we have interrelationships. So anything that affects you is probably affecting students at the high school and students at the elementary school.... This is rocking us to our core."

CLASSROOM CHANGES FOR STUDENTS

Stephenson told parents the district decided not to hire a long-term substitute to replace Izumizaki because of concerns that a newcomer wouldn't be able to provide the same continuity and quality to students as would current Albany teachers. 

She said there are nine sixth-grade sections that will absorb students from Izumizaki's classes; Stephenson said there was enough room in those sections to keep class sizes at or below the contract-mandated limit of 31. 

(She noted that there was room among the existing sections due to lower-than-expected enrollment in the sixth grade this year, which she described as "a blessing" under the current circumstances.)

One cohort of Izumizaki's students will remain together, under the direction of their other core teacher, who previously had only supervised them in the morning, explained Stephenson. The downside, parents pointed out, is that these students wouldn't receive the "sixth grade transitional experience" of learning what it's like to move between teachers. 

The other cohort will be split up among the remaining sixth grade teachers; parents were upset to learn that this would also mean their children would cease to be instructed by the afternoon teacher they had been getting to know, and love, this year. 

Superintendent Stephenson said the children likely would acclimate to the changes faster than parents: "I hope it's not as traumatic as you all think it's going to be."

PREVENTION AND PROTECTION

One parent asked what the district does to protect students from dangerous situations with adults, particularly because "this is not the first time" this type of allegation has arisen in the district.

In 2008, veteran Albany Middle School teacher Kay Sorg was charged with sexual assault on a former student. According to news reports, Sorg admitted to an "inappropriate sexual relationship" with the former student, which lasted four years; charges were dropped because the victim did not want to testify and Sorg agreed to resign. 

In 2010, Albany High wrestling coach Jon Etingoff was convicted of several counts of lewd and lascivious behavior after molesting three teenage boys. He was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison. Prosecutors said their investigation found another six victims dating back to 1975.

Stephenson said the district's hiring practices, which involve fingerprinting, reference checks, supervision and evaluations, are "excellent." She said school sports coaching staff members are trained on a range of policies designed to protect students. 

"Is it enough? That's my question. Have we done enough?" she asked. She said the district is looking into hiring a consultant to determine "if there's something we're not providing in terms of training. Are we doing a good job in the supervision? Are there signs of anything we should be looking for and missing?" 

Stephenson also said the district would like to find a way to address "the culture of not telling" that can arise for students in middle and high school. 

"We want to know if there's anything more we can be doing to make sure students get the message: 'If something doesn't feel right, your parent needs to know. We need to know.' If we're not doing it right, what can we do to fix it?"

RELATED

  • Blog: Coping as a Community with Allegations of Sexual Offending 
  • AMS Event: Having Difficult Conversations with Children
  • Parent Meeting Planned After Teacher Placed on Leave Following Alleged 'Lewd Acts'

Click the "Keep me posted" button below for updates about this story. 

If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, call editor Emilie Raguso at 510-459-8325 or email at albany@patch.com.

Jim Kirkpatrick September 28, 2012 at 04:06 PM
Emilie, this provides a great link with great info. You the best, Again you the gift to us in Albany, a gift that keeps on giving.
Albany Denizen September 28, 2012 at 05:22 PM
Much of AUSD's response to the arrest of Izumizaki leave me troubled. It seems to me what is missing in all this is the voice of the children. Has there been any attempt to speak to the students in his class as a group? I would suggest a meeting of the class - with parental permission for each child - with all of the counselors from the high school and the middle school present, but not the administration unless the students want them there. Before they dispense advice the counselors should ask the students as a group what they are feeling, what their concerns are, and how they feel about the measures so far taken by the district on their behalf. How do they feel about being split up and redistributed among the other sixth grade classes? Would they rather have stayed together as a group - at least for the time being - until things got sorted out a little better? What rumors have they heard - all of them - and how are these rumors affecting them? What effect has the way the media is covering Mr. I had on them? It's not too late for such a meeting to happen. I sincerely hope it does. Sue Douglass
Liwen Mah September 28, 2012 at 06:28 PM
A tragic incident regardless of the outcome. Vigilance and overcoming a culture of not telling are vital, because it is exceedingly difficult to predict criminal conduct against children. Most perpetrators of such crimes are first-time offenders (at least as far as official records go), and no amount of background checks will substitute for vigilance and ensuring that children have a safe avenue for reporting problems.
Albany Parent and Lawyer September 28, 2012 at 06:38 PM
As a parent of one of the kids directly impacted, I think the district has done a good job of being responsive in a short period of time, and more is in the work to talk to the kids. Not all of that need be public, and frankly, I hope it's not, as I really don't think it's relevant for a public forum. Also, I absolutely disagree that a group of sixth graders should get together and talk about what rumors they have heard -- that is spreading more rumors and the counselors are not in the position to confirm or deny some of them. Individual discussion, yes, but I absolutely disagree each child should share what rumors they have heard (which very likely would include things like names) with the class.
Liwen Mah September 28, 2012 at 06:49 PM
As one data point, open to several interpretations, Santa Clara County juries "deadlocked or acquitted defendants in 43 percent of the county’s child molestation trials" in 2011. Maybe Emilie can find statewide or longer-term statistics. http://www.caringforourchildrenfoundation.org/?p=13693
Middle School parent October 03, 2012 at 02:54 AM
http://www.youtube.com/all_comments?v=LeoCnpdheUY

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