The Williston Basin School District #7 has been the focus of attention following an Institutional Child Protection Services (ICPS) assessment concerning Wilkinson Elementary School. Initiated by the North Dakota Department of Children and Family Services, this evaluation raised serious concerns regarding the treatment of students in the HEART room, prompting immediate action from the district. Now, with investigations concluded, the district aims to uphold transparency and reinforce its commitment to the welfare of its students.

Concerning Allegations of Institutional Child Abuse and Neglect at Wilkinson Elementary

According to the letter received from the North Dakota Department of Children and Family Services, dated December 21, 2023, students at Wilkinson Elementary, particularly those in the HEART room, were identified as victims of suspected institutional child abuse and/or neglect. Allegations included instances of students being forcibly placed in the quiet room, staff neglecting their duties by being preoccupied with personal devices, and a lack of provision of special education services.

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Evaluation Findings: Neglect and Abuse Identified at Wilkinson Elementary

The assessment, conducted by Child and Family Services Field Services Specialists and reviewed by the State Child Protection Team on March 28, 2024, determined that Wilkinson Elementary was indicated for neglect/abuse of the HEART room students. Staff members implicated in the assessment, including the HEART room Special Education (SPED) teacher, the Wilkinson Elementary Principal, and five paraprofessionals, faced immediate administrative actions, including termination and resignation. The Williston School Board will act on the resignation(s) at the April 22 board meeting.

The district clarified that, in accordance with state law, the subject of the report is the institution/school rather than individual staff members. However, actions were taken against employees found to have violated district expectations for student safety.

Proactive Response and Accountability Measures Implemented by District

Throughout the assessment process, which involved interviews with staff and parents, policy reviews, and video evidence examination, the district took proactive measures to address the situation. Staff involved were placed on administrative leave, and the district conducted a thorough review of classroom footage, resulting in terminations and resignations.

Implementation of Corrective Measures Following ICPS Recommendations

In response to the ICPS recommendations, the district has implemented corrective measures, including Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) training for all staff, removal of locks from the quiet room, reinforcement of restraint and seclusion policies, and increased administrative oversight of classrooms.

Future Collaboration and Commitment to Improvement in WBSD#7

Looking ahead, Williston Basin School District #7 remains committed to collaboration with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction to develop and implement a comprehensive corrective action plan within the stipulated timeframe. Despite the challenges, district officials express confidence in the dedication and capabilities of the current staff, highlighting a shared vision for academic excellence and student well-being.

As the district continues its journey towards healing and improvement, it seeks to reassure parents, students, and the wider community of its unwavering commitment to fostering a safe and supportive learning environment for all.

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