Parent meeting ends in chaos over Murphy school sex scandal

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on October 23, 2012 at 11:53 PM

MURPHY — The allegations terrified many parents: Two teachers arrested for molesting kindergarten students at Martha Hunt Elementary School in Murphy.

Yet at a community meeting meant to calm parents, Plano ISD Superintendent Richard Matkin instead unintentionally enraged them.

"I find this presentation as an insult," shouted parent Benjamin Conner during a speech given by a child counselor. Fed up with the meeting, the father of three stood in the audience and interrupted the presentation.

Parents arrived hoping to speak publicly and ask the superintendent direct questions. Instead, they were told questions could only be submitted in writing, and answered later — after attorneys had screened them.

Conner lost his patience during a counselor's speech about how to discuss sexual abuse with children. "We're not here for you to tell us how to talk to our kids," Conner shouted as other parents cheered him on.

More parents soon joined him, yelling at the superintendent and demanding answers about what steps are being taken to ensure their children's safety.

"I acknowledge your comments," Superintendent Matkin said from the podium, before abruptly ending the meeting early. "I'm not going to get into a question-and-answer tonight... I cannot comment on this particular investigation."

Matkin, who only recently became superintendent, said the district is legally restricted from commenting because of ongoing criminal investigations and lawsuits.

"They're doing nothing to protect my children," said Steven Cuny, who has not let his four children return to Hunt Elementary this year. "They're doing everything to save their own jobs!"

Matkin tried to assure parents no other teachers were under suspicion. He added he was bringing in an independent investigator to review the district's hiring policies and discipline measures.

"We've heard the dialog from the community, and we'll address it. That's all the comments I have," Matkin told News 8 before quickly exiting the school's gymnasium.

The crimes go back to at least 2009. Former kindergarten teacher Joseph Garbarini is currently serving a 62-year prison sentence after a jury convicted him last year of sexual misconduct involving his students.

Investigators said the 30-year-old played out his sexual fantasies on young students using diapers and cages.

A second teacher, Todd Reich, was arrested last week for sexual misconduct involving a nine-year-old girl. Police said the gym teacher began touching her inappropriately when she was in kindergarten.

Reich, 38, is on administrative leave with the district.

Further infuriating parents is an accusation that the school's principal at the time, Linda Engelking, ignored early warnings of the abuse in both cases.

Engelking retired from Hunt Elementary this year after 33 years in Plano ISD. She has been unavailable for comment and is facing a federal lawsuit from some of the victims' parents.

"The problem has persisted for two-and-a-half years," said parent Karie Theologes after the community meeting. She has two young children at Hunt Elementary.

"My kids are worried about it. I'm worried about it, and I didn't get any answers tonight. None!"

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

 

 

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