Little Elm Superintendent of Schools Daniel Gallegher held a community meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the controversy and protest over the handling of an allegation of sexual assault that ended up with four students arrested and a police officer hospitalized.
Students organized the protest after saying the district wasn't doing enough after a teenage girl reported a sexual assault by another student more than a month ago.
The Superintendent spoke with members of the media Tuesday morning ahead of the listening session.
“I call it a listening session because that's truly what I intend to do,” said Gallagher. “We want to come together. We want to be able to move forward.”
Asked whether he believes police officers went too far in their use of force against the minors, Gallagher replied: “I’ll say this, What happened no one wishes would happen but it is important we let that investigation, that independent review happen so we all know the facts before we make any kind of judgment,” he said.
In a video posted on Facebook last week, Gallegher and Little Elm Mayor Curtis Cornelious said they could not share details of the investigation but that a thorough investigation was done by Little Elm police and that it was determined there was insufficient evidence to prove a crime was committed.
Gallegher said no student received a disciplinary consequence for reporting sexual misconduct and that misinformation related to the incident and shared among the student body led to a call for the walkout.
In the video, Gallegher said, "campus administrators and school resource officers were prepared to accommodate a peaceful walkout and keep our students safe as they used their voice, however, this demonstration was not peaceful and caused a major disruption."
Citing an instance not found in the videos shared on social media, Gallegher said a large group of students attempted to break into an administrator's office "in pursuit of targeted individuals who were in genuine fear for their safety."
Cornelious added that two students were arrested after assaulting a male and female police officer and that a third student was arrested for interfering in the arrest of one of those students. Cornelious said during that third arrest an officer was forced to use pepper spray and a stun gun on a student. The fourth arrest, Cornelious said, occurred after a student spit on an officer.
The video of the student being sprayed with pepper spray and shot with a stun gun by Little Elm police was shared widely on social media Friday. The video does not show the moments leading up to when the officer uses the spray and, Cornelious said, lacked context.
Now the district wants to begin the process of moving forward and the superintendent said the listening session following the Thanksgiving holiday will begin that process.
"What led to Friday's student protest hits us at the core of who we are and we have to find a way to restore the trust you need in order for all of us to move forward," Gallegher said in a letter announcing the community meeting. "Your questions, thoughts, and concerns are very important to me. I have heard and read each of them and I can feel your pain."
Gallegher said in the letter he "will be as transparent as possible" in the community meeting, but that due to federal privacy laws he is restricted on providing certain details related to students.
The listening session was held inside the high school's auditorium.
The Superintendent says the session would last as long as needed to ensure everyone who wants to speak does so.
The spokesperson for the Little Elm Police Department declined an interview request and referred NBC 5 to 'Little Elm Facts,' a website with frequently asked questions related to the incident. The department's public information officer said all of the officers involved in the incident are back on the job and could not immediately confirm whether the department's internal review was still underway.
Little Elm Protest
"It is important to me, our board of trustees, and campus administration that we allow our parents and community an opportunity to voice their concerns, thoughts, and provide suggestions to the district administration," Gallegher said.
Responding to the protest and the violence that followed, Gallegher said the district is taking the following steps:
- An independent committee will review Little Elm ISD's sexual harassment reporting and investigation process.
- The district's Safety and Security Committee will review Friday's incident.
- The alleged sexual misconduct will be investigated independently.
"We want to take any allegation seriously. And I think letting our community have an inside look into our procedures is the right thing to do which is why we put that committee together," said Gallegher.
Gallagher says the community-led committee will be chosen randomly and encouraged all parents at the meeting Tuesday night to sign up.
The town of Little Elm also launched a website, LittleElmFacts, to dispel rumors and fight disinformation surrounding the protest. The town said the webpage was built because incorrect information was circulating widely on social media and they wanted to have a place to provide official statements about the incident going forward.