A social worker at a Boise junior high school was accused last year of engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a student in their early teens.
The social worker died by suicide after police began investigating a tip about the relationship. In the wake of his suicide, city prosecutors have charged the school’s former principal with failing to report an allegation of child abuse for months.
The school district and school officials have not told parents of the alleged inappropriate relationship, several parents interviewed by the Idaho Capital Sun said. The district’s public response to the situation, so far, has been to move the former principal into an administrative position with the Boise School District.
“This situation has impacted many of our students, staff and families and we continue to provide our students and staff members with the support services they need,” said Dan Hollar, public affairs administrator for Boise School District, in an email.
Parents told the Sun they believe the events have exposed a need for training, accountability and transparency in the schools when it comes to boundaries between the adults and children.
The allegations come at a time when public school budgets are before the Idaho Legislature, and a faction of Idaho conservatives has taken aim at libraries, accusing them of supplying obscene material to minors.
Lawmakers have not proposed funding or policy changes to address scenarios like what is alleged to have occurred at Fairmont Junior High and at other schools in Idaho.
At least six educators in Idaho have been formally disciplined since the start of 2022 for alleged conduct with students, including sexual assaults, sexual comments in class and exchanging personal text messages with students.
What happened at the Boise junior high?
Police received an anonymous tip on Dec. 8, 2022, that set their inquiry in motion. The tip said:
“A school social worker (Scott Crandell) having an inappropriate sexual (?) relationship with” the student. “This is happening at Fairmont Junior High School in Boise. I want to be clear that I do not know if this is a sexual relationship, but we are concerned it is and want law enforcement to investigate.”
Crandell also was the social worker at Capital High School in Boise.
The Idaho Capital Sun has chosen not to include identifying information about the student, because they are a minor who may have been a victim of abuse, according to court records.
Christopher Ryan, the former principal of Fairmont Junior High, was charged Jan. 11 with a misdemeanor for “failing to notify law enforcement of reports made to him and/or conditions observed by him that (the student) was being abused,” the charging document says.
Ryan has pleaded not guilty. This month, he asked the Ada County judge to dismiss the case, arguing that the law he’s charged with violating is “unconstitutionally void” because it is vague, both on its face and as applied to Ryan’s alleged conduct.
Ryan’s attorney said in a court filing this month that the Boise Police Department began investigating in early December and, by Dec. 15, had interviewed the student, the student’s mother, Ryan and other members of the faculty and staff at Fairmont. Police also talked with the attorney for the Boise School District “on several occasions,” the court filing said.
Crandell died by suicide on Dec. 17 in a hotel in downtown Boise, according to a coroner’s report and other public records.
That was “one day after law enforcement had seized (Crandell’s) cell phone following a traffic stop,” the court filing said.
The Boise Police Department has denied public records requests from the Idaho Capital Sun regarding law enforcement investigations into accusations against Crandell.
What does Idaho law say about reporting child abuse?
Anyone with reason to believe a child has been abused, neglected or abandoned — or “subjected to conditions or circumstances that would reasonably result in” such mistreatment — must report the information to law enforcement or the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare within 24 hours, according to Idaho law.
Need to get in touch?
Have a news tip?
The law calls out specific professions — such as health care providers, social workers and school teachers — as mandatory reporters of abuse. But the law applies to everyone.
Failing to report the suspected abuse is a misdemeanor, according to the law.
Prosecutors say that Ryan was made aware of potential abuse in March 2022 and should have reported it then — about nine months before the anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers of Southwest Idaho instigated the police investigation of Crandell.
In court records, prosecutors have not disclosed what evidence points to Ryan knowing about potential abuse and not reporting it.
What are state and local education leaders doing?
In keeping with Idaho’s tradition of local control, the state is mostly hands-off on training educators to recognize and react when a colleague appears to have crossed a boundary with a student.
The Idaho Department of Education does not require schools to train staff and educators in how to respond when they see inappropriate relationships between a colleague and a student, or how to recognize “grooming” patterns that can precede sexual abuse.
It is up to school districts to determine what they emphasize when they train employees.
However, ethics training is a part of the curriculum for educators in Idaho — and for licensed social workers.
And when a person applies for state certification to teach in Idaho, they must sign that they have read and will adhere to the Code of Ethics for Idaho Professional Educators.
The code of ethics says, in part, that educators:
- will maintain “a professional relationship with all students, both inside and outside the physical and virtual classroom,”
- won’t engage in unethical conduct with a student (the code provides a long list of examples), and
- must report any breach of the ethics code.
Like other school districts, Boise Schools has a Title IX office and a Title IX coordinator, responsible for ensuring the district complies with Title IX — a federal regulation that says all staff and students in a school must be protected from misconduct and receive equal treatment, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Hollar said Boise public school teachers and staff must do annual training modules “related to various areas of safety in the workplace. There is a specific training module that focuses entirely on sexual harassment and appropriate relationships with students,” he said.
Part of the onboarding process for new staff members is a two-hour “Respectful Workplace Training session” that “specifically addresses establishing appropriate relationships with students, as well as grooming,” Hollar said.
Parents question why Boise schools didn’t disclose
Fairmont’s new principal, Jeff Roberts, addressed Ryan’s sudden departure from the school in a recent edition of a newsletter that goes out to Fairmont families.
“As you may (or may not) know, we have had some changes here at Fairmont recently,” said the newsletter. It said Ryan “has a new job. Chris has been moved to the district office where he will be serving as a Consulting Administrator. He will be a mentor for new administrators in the school district,” Roberts wrote.
Hollar told the Sun in an email that Ryan was placed on administrative leave Jan. 11, then reassigned to a job as an administrator at the District Services Center on Feb. 1.
That reassignment to the district office was “following an internal investigation that determined Mr. Ryan acted in accordance with Idaho Code, and the policies and procedures of the Boise School District,” Hollar said.
Ryan has a jury trial tentatively scheduled to begin May 10 in Ada County Court.
“Because Mr. Ryan is charged criminally, it limits what I can say now,” his attorney, Jeffrey Brownson, said in an email to the Sun. “However, he has pled not guilty, and we will vigorously defend him against this charge. Mr. Ryan looks forward to his day in court, where we expect the truth to come out.”
Parents of two other Boise students told the Idaho Capital Sun in separate interviews that, in the wake of Crandell’s death, they learned that Crandell had routinely pulled their children out of class to go to his office.
The parents said, in separate interviews with the Sun, that their children told them Crandell would sometimes dim the lights so they could take naps while he worked at his desk.
The Sun is not naming the parents to protect the identity of the students.
Crandell exchanged personal text messages and gave both students gifts, according to their parents. The visits to the social worker’s office caused the students to miss classes, but their absences were later marked “excused” in the school’s attendance system, both students’ parents said.
“I thought it was a case of someone just accidentally marking her absent,” one parent said. “I would send her a text saying, ‘What the heck?’ and all of a sudden it would be fixed.”
The parents learned of the allegations against Crandell from another Fairmont parent, then asked their own children about their interactions with Crandell.
The parents are concerned that families haven’t been told of the allegations against Crandell or about the charges against Fairmont’s former principal.
Hollar said there’s a reason for that: “Idaho Code prohibits public entities from disclosing information regarding grievances made against public employees.”
But this week, the Twin Falls School District issued a public statement on an employee who is charged with felony sexual battery of a minor, a teenage student.
The Fairmont parents said they want education leaders to make changes to ensure the next class of students is protected — because, they said, if current policies worked, someone would have put a stop to the events they’re just now hearing about.
“I feel like they didn’t look out for our girls,” one parent said.
Warning signs of ‘grooming’
- Abuser has easy access to the victim
- Victim may be vulnerable, such as during recovery from prior abuse
- Abuser is someone who has contact with minors
- Abuser tries to separate victim, physically and emotionally, from those who can protect them
- Abuser gains victim’s trust through gifts, attention, sharing secrets
- Abuser increases their physical contact with victim
- Abuser discusses sexual topics with victim, not in an educational setting but “to introduce the idea of sexual contact”
- For teen victims, close relationships with adults are often normal, but red flags include: secrecy, influence and control, crossing personal boundaries
- Abusers may present a “trustworthy image” to gain trust of the family and community
— Read more at RAINN.org
If you are concerned about warning signs or need support because a child or teen in your life has been abused, you can speak with someone who is trained to help. The National Sexual Assault Hotline is free, confidential and available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 800-656-4673 or chat online at online.rainn.org.