When Good People Do Nothing

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Last Week’s Story about the teacher-student sex scandal in a Colorado school — the principal and vice principal were indicted for failure to report he case, as required since they’re “mandatory reporters” of child abuse under state law — is followed up this week by another that really applies to the whole mindset. That would be the Utah school where girls (and boys? Unclear) are not allowed to say no when asked to dance:

Demanding Dances

“You guys are misunderstanding again,” Natalie Richard told her daughter. But it wasn’t the sixth-grader who was mistaken: Kanesville Elementary School in West Haven, Utah, really does have a policy that at its Valentine’s Day dance, “no” is not an acceptable answer. “We want to promote kindness, and so we want you to say yes when someone asks you to dance,” said district official Lane Findlay. Students aren’t required to attend the school’s event, and Richard was able to get the principal to mention the rule on a permission slip. But she couldn’t get him to let girls say no. “Sends a bad message to girls that girls have to say ‘yes’,” Richard said, and it “sends a bad message to boys that girls can’t say ‘no’.” Students are asked in advance to list five schoolmates they’d like to dance with, and Findlay said if a student was uncomfortable with a request, that “can be addressed.” (AC/KSTU Salt Lake City) …It can be addressed more easily by letting them say no.

There was a quote that Alexander left out; we only have so much room! The mother, Ms Richard, noted (speaking of the principal), “He basically just said they’ve had this dance set up this way for a long time and they’ve never had any concern before.” She hit it on the head with a restatement of her problem with the whole idea: “Psychologically, my daughter keeps coming to me and saying I can’t say ‘no’ to a boy,” she said. “That’s the message kids are getting.”

This is not the message to give kids — yet a Utah school is doing just that.

Indeed so, and that’s exactly the problem. They aren’t allowed to say no. They are also taught “don’t talk about” anything to do with sex — so when they can’t say no, or the boy (or teacher!) does something to them anyway even if they do muster up the courage to say no, they don’t have the encouragement, or maybe even the vocabulary, to tell their parents there’s something going on that’s making them uncomfortable. That’s one of the many reasons child predators get away with so much for so long.

In True’s most recent podcast, Kit and I talk about the failures involved in the Colorado school case, which (because the school officials allegedly failed in their “mandatory reporting” duty) led to the same teacher molesting even more children. Such cases can grow to absolutely ridiculous proportions, as Kit and I discuss. It’s certainly not an “entertaining” episode, but it’s definitely an important one, and I urge you to listen to it — especially if you’re a parent, or a grandparent, of young children. It’s sobering, but you need to know this stuff. Here’s last week’s story so you don’t have to go looking for it:

When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime

In August, Brian Vasquez, 34, a social studies teacher at Prairie Middle School in Aurora, Colo., was arrested, charged with sexual abuse. Now, Principal David Gonzales and Assistant Principal Adrienne MacIntosh are also in trouble: when the student complained about Vasquez three years prior, they “impress[ed] upon her the devastating effects her disclosure would have on his career and family,” and urged her “to recant her disclosure of sexual abuse by Vasquez,” investigators say. When the frightened 14-year-old did as they demanded, Gonzales and MacIntosh forced the girl to apologize to Vasquez and hug him — and then suspended her for “making up” the accusation. Vasquez now admits he did abuse the girl, and went on to victimize “several” other children. Vasquez, who has been teaching full time for 10 years, is charged with at least 31 felony child-sex counts. The school administrators, who claim they “don’t remember” the incident, have been charged with failing to report child abuse or neglect — a simple misdemeanor subject to a fine of $50-750, and zero to six months in jail. (RC/KMGH Denver) …Which is how we know we have “courts of law” rather than “courts of justice.”

The podcast, by the way, has a significant update on that story.

Meanwhile, simply because I told the story last week, and pointed to that podcast, about two dozen readers unsubscribed. Only one had the guts to actually write and protest about it. “Piano Guy” in South Carolina complained, “I have been a subscriber a lot longer than your records seem to indicate. Although I have enjoyed it, this most recent edition was rather dark in tone, which is not what I have come to expect from your newsletter.”

“The records” show he got his (free) subscription in 2009. Sure he could well have subscribed longer, for instance at a different address, but either way, he has read thousands of stories over the years. But he can’t take one that points out how adults failed the children they’re paid to be responsible for, so he’s turning his back to guard against ever having to see such a story again. He refuses to be alerted to the fact that anyone — piano teachers included — can (and should!) watch out for kids who may be abused, and get them help.

Yep, it’s an ugly problem: you sure as hell can hear that in my voice in the podcast. But this is what thinking is about: seeing the issues involved and why this stuff is so important. We can’t talk about difficult subjects every now and then, among the “entertaining” stories? Really?

And that’s another of the many reasons child predators get away with so much for so long. They’re counting on you to look the other way. Let’s stop cooperating with that expectation. Girls, boys, women, and men shouldn’t merely be able to say no, they should be empowered to do it. And they should be able to get help when someone doesn’t take no for an answer.


The Weber School District “got the message,” CNN reported Tuesday (February 13 — ahead of the dance).

“In the best interest of our students, we are re-examining the procedures surrounding these dances,” the district says in a written statement, “and will make any necessary changes to promote a positive environment where all students feel included and empowered in their choices.”

Um, that sounds pretty non-commital, so they continued: “We have advised our schools to eliminate any sort of language in the instructions surrounding these dances that would suggest a student must dance with another student.” Yeah, that’s the clarity needed.

In this day and age, when all kids should be learning they have the right to say “no,” the school district has lurched into the 21st century. Sometimes it takes a little prompting, and then good people do something!


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19 Responses to When Good People Do Nothing

  1. Beth, Washington DC 612 February 12, 2018 at 6:12 pm #

    It’s always okay to say no. Maybe they should teach them to say no politely, when asked to dance. That would be more helpful.

    • Susan, NY February 12, 2018 at 6:21 pm #

      And teach the boys how to handle rejection — heck, teach all the kids how to cope. Everyone has to hear no once in a while.

  2. Michelle, Iowa February 12, 2018 at 6:34 pm #

    What a HORRIBLE message to girls. This needs to be changed immediately. If I had kids in this school they would NOT be attending this.

  3. Dox, Calif. February 12, 2018 at 6:52 pm #

    I’d adjust that policy: “don’t say ‘no’, say ‘no, thank you'”. We should encourage politeness in both sexes.

  4. Robert in Oklahoma February 12, 2018 at 6:59 pm #

    It’s certainly heartbreaking learning about all this. Keep up what you’re doing, even if it means that some issues are “dark”, I don’t want to be left in the dark about this. Perhaps the more often child abuse (on all levels, not just sexual), we can actually start protecting these children and rid society of the monsters who would take advantage of our young like this.

    I can keep it up if readers continue to support the publication. Thanks for your 15 years (and counting) of support! -rc

  5. Dan, Michigan 718 February 12, 2018 at 7:18 pm #

    Is it ok if they say, “get away from me?”

    One would hope. -rc

  6. Skip, Oklahoma 719 February 12, 2018 at 7:19 pm #

    This is what happens when you try to enforce the minimization of hurt feelings through rules and legislation.

  7. Lynne, Colorado February 12, 2018 at 8:07 pm #


    One of the first books I bought my daughter when she was 4: “Your Body Belongs To You”. It teaches that you can say no to ANYONE — Grandma, Mommy, Daddy, even — if you don’t feel like a hug or a kiss, it’s okay to say, “Not right now”. Kids MUST know it’s okay to establish boundaries when they’re little — otherwise how do we expect to prevent them from being victimized?! For crying out loud!

    I *get* that they want to spare the boys the pain of rejection, but a blanket “No saying no” is NOT the way to do it. THINK, PEOPLE!

  8. Tom, Fairbanks AK February 12, 2018 at 8:12 pm #

    The world seems to have gone crazy. People in authority don’t seem to be able to think, or see both sides of an issue. So many OBLIVIOTS!

  9. Jackie, Tacoma WA February 12, 2018 at 10:30 pm #

    Just wanted to say thank you for both stories, but especially for the dance story. I’m an adult and have taken ballroom dance lessons for years. One of the most significant issues I had with the teachers there was the rule that you have to say yes if someone asks you to dance. I argued with them up one end and down the other about this; I personally can just ignore it and say no, but I hated hearing new people told this. I appreciate the idea behind it — they don’t want a school where people only dance with their friends and ignore new students. They want the new students to feel comfortable approaching anyone to dance.

    BUT…. How many women have been raped or assaulted out of the students there, and you’re telling them that they can’t say no to someone who makes them feel uncomfortable? So not cool. Dancing is very gendered and has a lot of rules about men telling women what to do as the lead, at least in ballroom. Adding the dynamic that women can’t say no makes it so much more threatening.

    And even if it’s not threatening, it can be annoying. I remember at one point it was fashionable for some of the guys to come out mid-dance and grab you away from your current partner. Unless it’s a mixer, that’s so not okay. If you want to dance with me you can ASK; just dragging me away from someone that I wanted to be dancing with at the time was in my mind rude. They finally got the hint that I wasn’t okay with that when I started just walking off the floor if they’d try that. Some people thought I was rude. I didn’t care. I GET TO SAY NO.

  10. Starr, California February 12, 2018 at 10:33 pm #

    I had such a visceral response to this story that it’s difficult to write rationally. Was this principal someone who had been turned down often during his school years? Is he coming from a place of not wanting other males to suffer humiliation as he did? I had a male supervisor who insisted on forming teams to do different things, and those of us who were “captains” naturally selected those we wished to have on our teams. I remember my supervisor saying to me in an aside: “When I was a boy in school, I was always the last one chosen by any team, and I want to make sure no one here is left out the way I was.” That very telling remark stayed with me.

    Yet, even if former rejections is what is driving this principal with his “Don’t Say No” campaign, it’s not an excuse to deprive children (and adults) the right to say no. Children need to know they have a right to their personal space.

  11. wayne, UK February 13, 2018 at 2:04 am #

    I also recall a story about a teen girl who was suspected of the heinous crime of having a paracetamol on school grounds to alleviate her monthly pain period, who was strip searched by the PC Principal who justified the abuse by quoting ZT ‘school regulations’ prohibiting any drugs on school grounds. Or the kindergarden girl who was screamed at by her principal for some minor offence, who then peed herself, and he called the police and had her arrested for assault.

    Too many stuff-shirted martinets are in places of authority that also have the uncaring PC support of their district’s school boards that allow them to abuse children like this.

    I didn’t cover the second story you mention, but I think the first one refers to Savana Redding — an amazing case indeed. -rc

  12. Gail, Virginia February 13, 2018 at 5:43 am #

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” –attributed to Edmund Burke

    It seems to me that when “good people” witness evil, they DO do something, since otherwise they’re definitely not “good people.”

    Which brings me to the blistering obliviot, “Piano Guy” (and anyone else who unsubscribed in protest). It used to be, I couldn’t believe it when long-time readers would cancel over one story after enjoying the newsletter for a long time, but as I’ve read along through the years, you have helped tune my eyes to really observe how people act, and I sure believe it now. The failure to simply think is breathtaking. I can just see him literally turning his back on a child being raped: this really is how “child predators get away with so much for so long.”

    As you said in reply to an early comment here, you need support from readers to keep going. I know free readers like “Piano Guy” do little if anything to actually help, so once I post this comment, I’m going to use the Contribute to True’s Mission form to make up for his lack of thought. Keep up the good work: we need more people like you pointing out the stupidity of people like the Utah principal, and more voters paying attention. Thank you.

    Thank you, Gail, for your 9-year (and counting) Premium subscription, and for the generous extra contribution you sent right after this comment. Many free readers do pitch in contributions now and then too. It all really helps keep things going. -rc

  13. Ed, Shaftsbury VT February 13, 2018 at 10:14 am #

    The “can’t say no” rule may make sense in a class where the instructor can explain the agreement to is practice the presented skill (dance, CPR, first aid, etc.), not to do anything else. It does not make sense in a social dance setting. Putting all control into the hands (and minds) of one group and eliminating freedom in/forcing submission of another group at an event that is supposed to be fun for all groups makes zero sense.

    One of a school’s functions is/was preparing youth for adulthood and the real world. This school seems to promote sunshine, lollipops and rainbows without acknowledging reality.

    I don’t expect the school administrators to recognize any hypocrisy between this ridiculous ukase and any campaign against bullying.

    I love the word ukase (“An authoritative order or decree; an edict.”) I just checked to see if there were any updates to the story (such as a reversal of the policy). I found none, and the school’s PTA Facebook page is completely silent, with nothing posted in the past 11 days. -rc

  14. Jay, NJ February 13, 2018 at 11:51 am #

    Parents can make a significant statement here by simply not allowing their daughters to go to the dance. Would the school permit boys to say no? Would this uptight school even allow boys to dance together? Either way, no girls would send a clear message.

    It would indeed. Alas, but I think many parents would be so clueless, they’d insist their girls attend. -rc

  15. Don, Oregon February 13, 2018 at 3:44 pm #

    The story and the comments I read skew STRONGLY toward this being an unbelievably insensitive school. I totally see it the other way around. They seem sensitive. The commenters seem like the ones that have gone off the deep end. How dare the school make such a rule? This is sixth grade we are talking about here, not high school or college. Is sixth grade so sexualized that being required to say yes carries lots of overtones? (I admit it has been a very long time since I was in sixth grade, but I did go to sixth grade in Utah, and yes I was typically chosen last for whatever.) It is or should be social, not sexual. On the other hand, I will totally agree we should do what we can to train kids to be nice to each other, and everyone to be nice to everyone. But, wow, we are over-reacting I think.

    Look at the age the girl in Colorado was when she was molested. We’re pretty much talking about the same age here! -rc

  16. george, San Luis Obispo, CA February 13, 2018 at 4:33 pm #

    I read This is True for my metal health. After reading stories like these two, my blood boils and I must calm myself. It is a very good exercise: Breath deeply, etc.

    The other stories I enjoy very much, laugh out loud, sometimes, and that is good for my metal health also.

    So all in all for a brief time each week, I can get my mind in to near perfect harmony with universe, and in this day and age it gets harder and harder to do.

  17. Jennifer -- Los Angeles, CA February 13, 2018 at 9:04 pm #

    Fifth-graders and sixth-graders are between the ages of ten and twelve. Those are ages when children become sexually aware. They tease each other and some become flirts. The more aggressive kids become bullies. If children are taught that they cannot say no, the bullies will know they can get away with whatever harm they want to perpetrate.

  18. Bronwyn, Norfolk, VA February 17, 2018 at 8:15 am #

    To start with: I’d just like to say that I completely and totally agree with everything you’ve said. Even at a “harmless” middle school dance, telling girls that it’s kinder to say “yes” even if you don’t want to lays the groundwork for much harsher consequences later.

    For the people like “Ben in Oregon,” above, I’d like to add another perspective here. I was “that girl” in middle/high school — the quiet, overweight, unpopular girl who wasn’t conventionally attractive. Between sixth grade and twelfth grade, I attended a total of fifteen dances — seven dances hosted at my middle school, two junior cotillions, two high school homecoming dances, my junior class Ring Dance, and my senior prom. At those fifteen dances, I danced with a grand total of four different people, and I only danced with one of those more than once.

    One boy asked me to dance, probably because he noticed that I was the only one who hadn’t been danced with all night and he was a gentleman like that. One boy I asked to dance, sort of jokingly, and apparently surprised him into a “yeah, why not?” One boy was my best friend/crush (it was difficult for me to sort out my emotions at the time), and if we were both at a dance, one of us was bound to ask the other to dance at least once. The fourth person I danced with was my female best friend, and that was kind of a mutual “I came to this dance to dance and all these boys are being stupid and ignoring us, let’s dance together” thing. I asked two other boys to dance with me on two different occasions, one I knew and one I didn’t. Both of them said no, which, yeah, that stung. A lot.

    But here’s the thing. I was at one of the dances, and the DJ announced that he was playing a slow dance, and “if someone asks you to dance, you have to say ‘yes’!” You’d think that would have been the perfect opportunity for someone like me — go ask the hottest, most popular boy in the room before anyone else does! Get the chance to dance with SOMEONE tonight, since the one person I can count on to dance with me isn’t here! But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I knew that no matter who I asked to dance, I would…well, I’d be able to tell that they didn’t want to dance with me; middle-school boys aren’t exactly subtle. But I would much rather have asked someone and heard a “yes!” when they had the option of saying “no,” because then I would know that they wanted to dance with me. I would know that they had a choice, and they picked me. Nobody wants to know that someone only danced with them because they had no choice.

    The “just don’t say no” thing really doesn’t do anybody any good, and does a whole lot of people harm. I’m glad the school backed down — for everybody’s sake.

    Well there you go: an awkward middle-school girl years ago, when there weren’t headlines just about daily about sexual abuse and a “#MeToo” movement, clearly had more brains and maturity than an adult, presumably well-educated, school principal in Utah in an era where there is such awareness. This isn’t rocket science: it should be obvious why the principal’s policy was a problem. And for most, it is. You really have to wonder about those to whom it isn’t completely obvious. -rc

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