Community members voiced frustration during an emotional community forum at Verrado High School following an incident that allegedly occurred on a school bus in April.
More than 100 parents brought up lack of communication, concerns of bullying from school staff, little supervision and direct criticism at the athletic director and staff during the July 2 meeting. There were also two emotional stories told by current and former students at Agua Fria Union High School District.
“I gave up my jersey. Softball was my passion and I gave it up because of this school. Because I didn’t feel protected. It just hurts me,” said Sara Russell, the sophomore at Verrado High School who reported what she saw on the bus.
Russell, who is now homeschooled, received anonymous threats of violence, rape and other forms of harassment after reporting what she believed to be a sexual assault on the school bus. Her mother said they received little to no communication and protection from Verrado High School. Agua Fria Union Superintendent Dennis Runyan asked to receive copies of the emails and the threats.
The community forum was run by Runyan, Verrado Principal Kristen Tiffany and Verrado Assistant Principal/Athletic Director Adam Brezovsky.
According to police reports, the girls’ junior varsity softball and the boys’ varsity baseball teams were on a bus back to Verrado from Maricopa High School. Videos reportedly show boys holding down teammates, putting their hands over a boy’s mouth and pulling down their pants. One boy covered a camera with his hand, the report stated.
However, after police investigations, no sexual assaults were conclusively found, no arrests were made and no charges were filed, according to the police report and Runyan. The bus video also did not contain any evidence of genital exposure, according to the report.
The students involved in the incident were suspended from school for between five and nine days, Runyan said.
But the first time many of these parents heard about the bus incident was through a recent West Valley View story, and many were frustrated by the school’s lack of communication.
“No email, no communication, there is none,” one parent said at the community forum.
Multiple parents chimed in, saying that emails and phone calls seem to never be returned by the staff, and some suggested they feel they’re being ignored.
“One of the biggest things for me that I’m hearing is communication,” Tiffany said. “That’s something that is important to me. I encourage it with my teachers, with their parents and with their students. I like to think I do a good job of communicating with parents, but what I’m hearing tonight is that I’m not. So, that is something that I will reflect on and work on in order to make sure that I am communicating with all of you with your concerns.”
Supervision was another talking point. Three coaches were on the bus, but there were supervisory issues during the trip, Runyan said. Going forward, there will be specific seating for coaches on the bus, whether it’s one, two or three coaches, Brezovsky added.
Perhaps the highlight and emotional high point of the meeting was when a former student who attended the school district in 2013, Kayla Shosho, took the microphone and in tears, asked what she did wrong.
“Why weren’t you there to protect me?” Shosho said to the staff, with tears in her eyes.
Shosho was a student at the district when Kyle DeBerry, a 25-year-old wrestling coach at the time, pled guilty to child abuse with sexual intent, she said. DeBerry stalked and abused her, she said.
The room was silent as Shosho accused the staff of covering up her story and not helping her.
“I came out to multiple people,” Shosho said. “I told my counselor, I told everybody.”
Runyan said his heart goes out to the victims who shared their stories during the community forum.
“There was a Title IX report done on the district approximately finished four months ago,” Runyan said. “It does indicate that the district did report and did prosecute and did manage through some teacher events over the last 10 years.”
That report included Shosho’s situation, Runyan added.
At one point during the meeting, attendees verbally attacked the staff, in particular Brezovsky, who was accused of covering up incidents.
“There were disciplines for these behaviors,” Runyan said. “There was information for these behaviors. There was a police investigation for these behaviors. We’re jumping to conclusions at this point that are not reflective of the actions of the district.
“We’re not going to spend the evening here attacking my staff.”
Runyan and the staff tried to share a message about the good of the community.
“I am looking to the community to partner with,” Tiffany said. “I am here for kids. I got into education for kids. I live in this community, I care very much about this community and this school.”