Thursday, February 16th 2017, 5:38 pm
The arrest of a teacher's assistant in Perry has led to a shake-up throughout the district. Arnold Cowen, 85, is charged with 21 counts of child molestation and one count of possessing child pornography.
Thursday, the principal at Perry Upper Elementary, Kenda Miller, as well as teacher Jeff Sullins were arrested for failing to report the abuse. Police say the current charges may just be the beginning, and they are still interviewing students and teachers to learn the extent of the abuse.
Police describe Cowen as "very cooperative" in this ongoing police investigation. When police learned of the allegations in late January, Cowen opened up in his first interview with investigators, describing interactions in hallways and a classroom as he took advantage of opportunities to fondle and molest 5th and 6th grade girls.
Court documents read, "Arnold Cowen stated that he would lean down to assist the female students and take advantage of this opportunity to fondle and molest their breasts and bodies."
Cowen also said these acts have been going on for at least a year. In an excerpt from court documents, “Arnold Cowen strongly agreed that he has progressed his lewd acts immensely in the last 3-4 months."
Police say Cowen's victims reported the abuse over and over, but nobody listened. “If we would have got that call, the very first complaint, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you,” says Perry Police Department’s Assistant Chief Forrest Smith.
Court documents show at least ten students told Sullins and Miller of Cowen's fondling, but Miller insisted the stories were made-up since Cowen was a nice guy. Miller told police, “...we have had these allegations on Cowen before, but we determined they were fabricated by the students."
Making that judgment and dismissing the complaints is a violation of the Oklahoma Failure to Report Act. Police say more teacher arrests are possible, and the school board has already suspended Superintendent Scott Chenoweth.
Smith says, “I think what we have here is a perfect case of just being sucked into that perception of that nice guy and those actions and how we perceive those things.”
With the possibility of more victims coming forward, police encourage you to have an open dialogue with your children about what is right and wrong, and trust them when they raise the red flag. “Listen to your kids,” says Smith, “and let your kids understand that they can tell you anything.”
At a Perry Public Schools Board Of Education meeting Thursday night, members voted to go into executive session to discuss Superintendent Chenoweth's employment. Board members stayed behind closed doors for an hour and a half. When they returned, board members voted to reconvene the meeting on Tuesday, February 21, at 6 p.m.
Calls by News 9 to school board members Thursday were not returned. Attorney for Perry Public Schools, Bryan Drummond did not have a comment after Thursday night's meeting.
State superintendent Joy Hofmeister released a statement Friday morning.
This situation in Perry is a stark reminder to anyone who works in our schools that it is unconscionable to say nothing or look the other way when there is an allegation of an adult victimizing a child.
If you suspect any type of inappropriate behavior between adults and students, you absolutely have a legal and moral obligation to report it to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. It is not your responsibility to determine the validity of a claim, regardless of where it originates. Swift and proper reporting of suspected inappropriate behavior is vital.
Parents surrender their children to our schools with the presumption they will be safe from harm. I am heartbroken for the students and families in Perry whose trust in their local school has been shaken.
February 16th, 2017
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