No indications of criminal conduct by parent volunteer at Monroe School
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE — Special investigator Kevin Sutton reported Sept. 3 that he found no evidence of inappropriate conduct by parent volunteer Michael Beebe while he was a volunteer at Monroe Elementary School.
Sutton, an attorney with Lusk Albertson PLC, made his report to the Wyandotte School Board at a special meeting Sept. 3 at Wyandotte City Hall. He also reported on his investigation into district volunteer practices and protocols.
Beebe, who served as a parent volunteer at Monroe Elementary from 2016 to 2019 while his daughter was a student at the school, has been charged with multiple criminal sexual abuse charges against children. None of the current charges occurred on school property.
Sutton also reported on the background check, the state of Michigan’s Internet Criminal History Access Tool, which was run on Beebe and the process which followed.
Sutton said he interviewed 15 people in the course of his investigation: nine current or former Monroe staff members; one Monroe parent volunteer; Monroe Elementary Principal Vicki Wilson; former Human Resources Director Rebecca Eyster; Carla Harding and Patricia Cole, past Wyandotte Schools superintendents; and current Supt. Catherine Cost.
Sutton also reviewed relevant school district policies and guidelines, including existing policies and administrative guidelines, the volunteer information packet, a volunteer request form, volunteer database information, WATCHDOG program information guidelines, an anonymous parent letter from Feb. 15, the ICHAT report relative to Beebe in 2016, 2017 and 2018, all of Monroe’s sign-in and sign-out sheets for the past three school years, Title I binders containing school information from the past three school years, and emails, notes and other communications from the past three school years.
Sutton said the school district maintains an organized system for processing volunteer requests and conducting background checks, specifically ICHATS and maintaining a database of eligible volunteers, which is available to school secretaries in every building.
He said current district policies and administrative guidelines require that all volunteers submit to an ICHAT background check before being approved to volunteer in any district school.
“Mr. Beebe’s initial ICHAT in 2016 revealed a criminal history with multiple felony charges,” Sutton said. “The oldest offense listed in that ICHAT report was from 1992, and at the time, the most recent was from 1999. None of the charges listed on the ICHAT involved sexual contact of any kind, or any inappropriate interactions with children.”
Sutton said Beebe was initially advised of the ICHAT results by Wilson, after which Beebe contacted Cost. At that time, Eyster, who would typically deal with the issue, was on medical leave, so Cost met with Beebe.
“At that time, Mr. Beebe explained his conduct in a candid and forthright way, noting that he had been addicted to drugs and had made several bad decisions, usually while under the influence of such substances,” Sutton said. “Mr. Beebe expressed that he had turned his life around since that time, was married, was clean and sober, owned a small business in Wyandotte, which employed several people, spoke of his extensive involvement in his church, and he indicated to Dr. Cost that he had never expected to have a daughter, and expressed a sincere desire to be involved with her activities at school.”
Sutton said in 2016, Beebe’s daughter was a kindergarten student at Monroe.
Cost told Sutton that character references for Beebe reached out to her on their own volition to “speak passionately in favor of Beebe’s reform and his fitness as a parent and as a member of the community.”
Based on her findings, Sutton said Cost approved Beebe as a volunteer for the 2016-17 school year only, to serve as a “WATCHDOG,” which is a volunteer program in the elementary schools “Dads of Great Students.”
Sutton said ICHAT reports were run on Beebe at the beginning of the 2017 and 2018 school years, and those checks revealed no new charges from the prior year. He said the decisions to allow Beebe to continue to volunteer were made collaboratively in 2017 and 2018 between Cost, Eyster and Wilson.
“Not only were subsequent ICHAT checks conducted, there was a dialogue between the superintendent, the principal and the HR director, regarding how the past year had gone, had there been any issues at the building, and whether the ICHAT revealed anything new, which it did not,” Sutton said.
Sutton said the WATCHDOG program at Monroe has established rules for volunteers, as well as an orientation program, which is conducted by Wilson or the head parent volunteer. The rules require adults to use the faculty or staff restrooms instead of student restrooms, to never be alone with students, always be visible to others and follow all school district policies.
Sutton said Beebe served as a WATCHDOG four times during the 2016-17 school year, and once during the 2017-18 school year. He said Beebe assisted in the lunchroom, along with other parent volunteers, twice during 2018, when staff were taking part in training.
Sutton said the only substantive complaints about Beebe were that he was “somewhat loud and disruptive when he was present in the building.”
“Some teachers expressed concern that he wanted to bring treats, such as doughnuts or popsicles to class, instead of just assisting with the assigned activity that he was given,” Sutton said. “Those concerns were expressed during his initial year of volunteering as a WATCHDOG, in 2016-17. Those concerns were discussed with Mr. Beebe, and he adjusted his behavior while in the building to be less boisterous.”
Sutton said staff described Beebe as “outgoing, friendly and helpful,” and he seemed to know many of the students by name, and that students reacted positively to him by giving him “high fives” and calling him by name. Staff also observed that Beebe seemed to know many of the parents as well.
Sign-in sheets indicate that Beebe attended parent-teacher conferences, Parent Teacher Organization meetings, lunches with his daughter, back-to-school nights and PTO Nacho Days, which is an adult-only activity. It is also believed that he supported the book fair, the Santa Shop and the field day activities.
Sutton said an anonymous letter was sent to the superintendent by a group of “concerned parents” on Feb. 15, 2018, which appeared to have been prompted by Beebe’s lunch with his daughter and three of her friends on Valentine’s Day, at school, when he brought in McDonald’s food, Valentine Day treats and a flower for each of them. Sutton said Beebe told the staff that he had the parents’ permission to do so. On that day, Feb. 14, 2018, other parents were in the lunchroom as well, having lunch with students.
“On Feb. 14, there were multiple parents that were there, having lunch with their students, because of Valentine’s Day,” Sutton said. “Mr. Beebe was in the same location as them, not in a special location, and he was not given any access that anyone else did not have.”
Cost followed up with Beebe, Sutton said, as did Wilson. He said Wilson said there had been a proliferation of holiday-related treats from many other parents, and on that day, there were multiple treats that were delivered by parents of other students, asking that those items be shared with their students.
“Ms. Wilson was identifying an overall trend, a proliferation in excessive holiday goodies that were coming into the school,” Sutton said.
After that date, Sutton said Wilson implemented a protocol to ascertain that any student having lunch with another parent had permission from their parents to do so, either in writing or via a phone call.
Sutton said in February 2018, Beebe started to openly tell people in the community that he was still allowed to volunteer with Wyandotte Public Schools despite his past felony convictions, and when Wilson learned of this, she was concerned that Beebe was sharing this information without the full context, and after discussion with Beebe and Cost, Wilson decided in March 2018 that Beebe would no longer be permitted to be a WATCHDOG at Monroe.
Sutton said it appears that Beebe helped in an unofficial capacity at the drive and drop location when the assigned school district employee was either absent or unable to assist, which is morning dropoff on 14th Street.
“It does appear that Mr. Beebe jumped in, unofficially, and without being asked, to help with that process, and often wore his WATCHDOG T-shirt while doing so, though it was not a WATCHDOG activity nor a formal volunteer role,” Sutton said. “It is believed that this fact led many to believe that Mr. Beebe was serving as a formal volunteer at Monroe more often than he actually was.”
Sutton said there were no other complaints to school officials about Beebe’s personal conduct other than the anonymous letter mentioned earlier.
Sutton said that after the school district received information about the allegations against Beebe in May 2019, Beebe was advised that he was not to be present on district grounds for any purpose, and Wilson delivered this message to Beebe after communications with Cost and the assigned Wyandotte police detective. Sutton said Cost had a second phone call with Beebe reinforcing the fact that he was banned from all school grounds at any time.
Sutton said the VIPS guidelines are inconsistent with school board approved policies with respect to volunteers with felony convictions, as well as the appeal processes. He also said there were no complaints that stated that Beebe ever acted in an inappropriate way during his time as a volunteer at Monroe.
Sutton suggested specific policy recommendations to the school board to prevent future situations, notably volunteer opportunities for individuals with past felony convictions, as well as an appeal process, and staff training.
School Board President Patrick Sutka said the board has additional work to do, but he feels the findings reported at the Sept. 3 meeting offer a good start.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected])