KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Two south Kansas City Catholic Elementary school band teachers have been fired. The two teachers were placed on leave earlier in March. The school principal sent a letter home to parents Thursday with the news that they have been let go.
"It's very important that the protection of children is a top priority in all instances, and I think this decision best protects children," said Jenifer Valenti, the ombudsman for the Catholic Diocese for Kansas City and St. Joseph. She says the firing of St. Thomas More Elementary school band teachers Gregg Briggs and Tod Barnard was for the best.
"The investigation in Independence stemmed from Mr. Briggs offering a ride to a student in Independence," said Valenti.
No charges have been filed against Briggs, but the letter to parents states he was terminated after a review by the school's independent review board.
Fifty-three-year-old Tod Barnard has been charged with two counts of second degree child molestation and two counts of third degree assault after an 11-year-old student said he had groped her chest.
"It's very important for us to put children first," said Abott Durocher, a member of SNAP --the acronym for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
"That can't happen if the Catholic church, this diocese, or any entity or institution is not transparent about the individuals who are working for them," Durocher said.
He feels there's a lack of transparency and accountability in this case because he said parents weren't notified right away. Valenti says that's just not true.
"This case is a good example of parents and school officials looking for those signs and identifying them and rooting out that abuse, so that we could address it, and it was addressed immediately," she said.
The ombudsmen said the families involved are justifiably concerned.
"They are shaken up by this, any time there is an allegation in a community that a community member has sexually abused a child, it's really hard, and it's really difficult for the family, and I think it's really scary, and so I imagine that the families are shaken up and that it's going to take a strong pastoral response from the church and from the school to help them work through it," she added.
The band program will continue throughout the remainder of the school year. Below is the letter written to parents from the principal:
March 27, 2014
Dear Parents and Guardians,
I want to inform you about decisions that have been made regarding the status of band instructors Gregg Briggs and Tod Barnard. As you know, both instructors were placed on leave earlier this month following the initiation of investigations into both men concerning allegations of suspicious behavior.
When the police investigation of Mr. Briggs was concluded with no charges filed, the matter was reviewed by the diocesan Independent Review Board. The Independent Review Board is a confidential consultative group of professionals assembled to advise the Bishop on matters related to child and youth protection. On March 26, the Board recommended the termination of Mr. Briggs. According to the Board, "The termination recommendation is based on Mr. Briggs admitted violation of diocesan standards of behavior." Bishop Robert Finn reviewed the recommendation and determined that the recommendation should be followed. Accordingly, St. Thomas More School has severed its relationship with Mr. Briggs.
The Review Board did not conduct an investigation of the allegations against Mr. Barnard because he has been charged by civil authorities and that process is ongoing. Fr. Farnan and I have decided that caution dictates that St. Thomas More School also terminate its relationship with Mr. Barnard.
The band program at St. Thomas More School has continued to be taught since March 5, 2014 by a teacher currently employed by the school. The band program will continue throughout the remainder of the school year and into the future school years. We at the school are very proud of the hard work and dedication of the band students. We will be celebrating their talents with a concert in May.
During this difficult time for our community, please be assured the safety of your children is our top priority. Counselors will be on hand Friday, March 28th if any student would like to visit with them. If you suspect abuse, please report it to the Missouri Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-392-3738. We also ask you to report abuse to local police. Finally, if the suspected abuser works or volunteers for the Church, please contact Ombudsman Jenifer Valenti at 816-812-2500.
St. Thomas More School