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DCPS principal blames communication blunder for not reporting teacher rape arrest

Rudy Gonzalez (Montgomery County Police Department)

The principal of Shepherd Elementary School blamed a communications blunder when questioned as to why she did not alert parents about a music teacher charged with rape.

Last week, Montgomery County Police arrested Rudy Gonzalez, 47, of Wheaton, on allegations he sexually assaulted a woman so violently, she needed to have reconstructive surgery on her genitals. The victim told detectives Gonzalez, a D.C. Public Schools employee of 21 years, promised to teach her English and help her obtain U.S. citizenship. The woman recalled waking up naked in Gonzalez's bed. She was, bloody, groggy and in terrible pain.

Montgomery County Police, which is leading the ongoing criminal investigation, confirmed it called and emailed DCPS' Office of the General Counsel on the morning of Oct. 10. That correspondence occurred almost simultaneously with Gonzalez's jailhouse booking.

"We informed a DCPS representative about all of the charges in this case," Capt. Paul Starks told ABC7. "This is standard procedure when a person who has the care and custody of children is accused of a felony."

In a follow-up email to police, DCPS confirmed Gonzalez was an employee, but made clear it would not disclose additional details to investigators without a subpoena.

RELATED: Principal responds to criticism over failure to notify parents of DCPS teacher's arrest

Around 8 p.m. that evening, Shepherd Elementary School principal Jade L. Brawley sent a vaguely-worded email to parents. It noted a "short-term replacement" would be filling a void in Shepherd's "music program." However, the email made no mention of an arrest, let alone rape allegations against a longtime teacher.

Greetings Shepherd Families,

I am reaching out to inform you that as of tomorrow October 11, 2018, a short-term replacement has been assigned to provide coverage for the music program while the permanent staff member is out of the building.

It is imperative that our school environment remain a loving place conducive to learning. I am committed to ensuring that staff changes do not impact the academic instruction of our students. Should it be deemed necessary, a long-term substitute will be assigned.

If you have any questions, please contact me via email at jade.brawley@dc.gov.

Thank you for your continued support.

Nearly a week passed without much concern or questioning from parents. After all, Brawley's email did not give the impression anything was awry.

Then on Oct. 15, a confidential source leaked information about Gonzalez's arrest to ABC7.

On Oct. 16, ABC7 contacted DCPS by email with a list of eight questions pertaining to Gonzalez's tenure, and the criminal charges lodged against him.

Knowing media coverage was imminent, Principal Brawley issued a moderately more detailed email to parents on the afternoon of Oct. 16. Yet, as in her first email, there was no mention of the charges or allegations.

Dear Shepherd Elementary School Parents and Families,

I am reaching out to follow up on messaging I sent last week regarding an important staff update. After receiving a report from a neighboring jurisdiction of the investigation into an alleged incident involving a Shepherd Elementary faculty member, I want to assure you that the wellbeing of our students is our number one priority. Our educators are held to the highest standards. In this case, Mr. Gonzalez has been placed on leave during the investigation and we are in the process of securing a long-term substitute.

It remains paramount to us all that our school environment stays conducive to learning and that staff changes do not impact the academic instruction of our students. We will receive additional resources for our music program as needed to ensure that every student receives the high-quality education they deserve in a safe and supportive environment.

If you have any questions, please contact me via email at jade.brawley@dc.gov.

Thank you for your continued support.

On Oct. 17, Shepherd Elementary School hosted a PTA meeting in its multipurpose room. The agenda focused almost exclusively on Gonzalez.

"[The] PTA meeting will be devoted to talking about this issue as a Shepherd family. There are no additional details to be shared, but Principal Brawley wants to offer an open forum for questions and conversation," PTA President Liz Bradley wrote in an email, which also warned parents about news coverage. "Please be aware the school will have additional security tomorrow to help school staff manage media we anticipate will be located nearby. The media will not be allowed to be on school property or to talk with students on school grounds. We can't control the media off property, so that doesn't mean they won't try to ask for comment as you walk to school and from your cars."

DCPS opted to ban journalists from attending Wednesday's PTA meeting, and attempted to remove news crews from the public sidewalk. After the meeting adjourned, Principal Brawley spoke before a gaggle of cameras, calling Gonzalez's arrest "a very delicate matter."

ABC7 Reporter Heather Graf: "What did you know last Wednesday, when that initial letter was sent saying a substitute teacher was being brought in?"

Principal Brawley: "What did I know? That DCPS had received an employment verification."

ABC7 Reporter Heather Graf: "You did not know he'd been arrested?"

Principal Brawley: "The original communication was that there was an employment verification followed by information about an arrest, with no other details beyond that."

Brawley did not specify who was to blame for the breakdown in communication. However, DCPS clearly had enough damning intel to immediately place Gonzalez on administrative leave last Wednesday. Taking Brawley at her word, parents continue to question why she did not ask her superiors (or police) what Gonzalez had been arrested for.

"DCPS tried and once again failed at covering up their mistakes. Instead of being out in front and being transparent with parents, they are more worried about protecting their institution," said one Shepherd parent who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Without your accurate and great reporting, DCPS would not have been held accountable and parents would have had no idea."

DCPS' interim spokesman, Shayne Wells, emailed ABC7 Tuesday claiming the school system had planned to notify parents about Gonzalez's arrest, but that ABC7 simply beat them to the punch. ABC7 asked Wells to provide documentation such as an email thread to substantiate his claims. Wells said he would "have to check," but never followed up.

ABC7 has submitted multiple requests for a complete list of schools where Gonzalez has worked during his 21-year career. However, the administration maintains releasing such information would violate employee confidentiality.

"DCPS cannot comment on matters related to personnel information or the details of an ongoing investigation," Wells wrote in an email. "You have the letters outlining the communication to parents, which answers your question related to what we shared with parents."

Yet many parents believe DCPS provided them with a misleading, borderline dishonest narrative. Honesty and openness, they argue, is the best way to conduct business.

"Informing parents that a teacher has been arrested on multiple sexual assault charges that is public record is just providing the facts. Instead, we always find out about the facts after DCPS tries to obfuscate," the anonymous Shepherd parent said.

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