As alleged sexual abuse involving students during a Fairbanks trip keeps Dimond High School’s football program suspended, Anchorage School Board President Starr Marsett sat down with KTVA Tuesday to discuss the matter – both as a board member and a parent.

This transcript of Marsett’s comments has been edited for brevity and clarity.

What communications has the district had with students at Dimond High?

I know the school board is taking those measures to make sure we’re communicating at every school, just kind of reinforcing our policy of no hazing, no violence, no retribution – you know, all those things we take very seriously. And I think it’s a good reminder, unfortunately, that that happened, but it’s a good reminder. And even though we practice that every day, it’s prudent of us to just go into the classrooms, talk to the students giving the teachers some information, making some presentations – and not just at Dimond, but at all of our schools, just always be proactive.

What can you say about those conversations?

I don’t have the verbiage; I just know that [ASD Superintendent Dr. Deena Bishop’s administration] asked that teachers be given some guidelines on how, maybe, they could have conversations in the classrooms with the students. We do have what’s called a Crisis Team, for when there’s a death or an incident that happens in one of our schools; we have them at Dimond High School, and we have our group of counselors that do talk with students, because we’re not ready to say what happened. And there’s probably a lot of rumors going around and kids are probably traumatized by this – it’s good to have those counselors there, so they have someone to talk to.

Any word on whether students are using those counselors?

I haven’t (heard), but I’m sure they are; they’ve been there for several days now. We do have added staff in the hallways at Dimond, just because we want students to be safe, our football players, and make sure there’s not any harassment going on, any retribution or anything like that. So we have other APs, assistant principals from other schools over at Dimond, and they’re keeping our kids safe.

Do you anticipate any policy changes in the wake of this incident? Is the school board examining safety policy or procedures with regard to hazing at this time?

We will look at that. Right now we need to wait until the investigation’s over; I don’t know if a lot of individuals, community members, know that any time there’s an incident that could involve APD, we do have to let them finish before we can even start our investigation. We haven’t even been able to talk to players or anything until maybe Friday of last week, but we’re not ready to release any information in regards to that investigation. I know that we’re meeting this day and working on an update, but that still doesn’t mean I’ll be able to release any information – but any information I can, I’d be happy to share with the community.

So you’re going into executive session with Dr. Bishop. Was this meeting already scheduled in light of this?

It was scheduled, because we had several things come up, and our next board meeting was Sept. 10 so that’s kind of a ways off. We did need to get some updates on things that are going on within the school district to keep the board informed, so that we’re knowledgeable and know what we can answer and what we can’t answer, in regards to (these incidents). We’re going to have our legal advice there, and just – whenever we do an investigation like this we want to be sure we’re protecting our students.

What is the school board’s stance on safety for students?

The school board’s stance on safety, of course, is that safety is No. 1 – you can’t educate a child if they don’t feel safe in their environment, and so that is very important to us as a school board. It was important we talk about the shooting down in Florida and our ALICE training, that’s just one component of it, but – I personally, and neither does any of the board members, want any of our students to be hazed, bullied, assaulted. We want all of our students to feel safe and invited into their educational environment.

How do you feel about communication of this Dimond High incident to the community? Do you feel that the district did a good job with communication?

I do support Dr. Bishop in her decisions that she’s made; she’s doing what she thinks is best. As a board we don’t work for ASD and we are elected officials, so we feel more of an obligation to communicate with the community as much as we let them know that we are taking measures to keep students and other people in the schools safe.

Is there anything else you want the community to know?

I can tell you as a board member, and from the rest of our board members, we are kind of taken aback. My son played football when he went to school in North Pole and – it’s heartbreaking, it‘s heartbreaking that we have students that have had to experience whatever they have had to experience. My heart goes out to the families and the students themselves – we don’t know who they are as a board, we haven’t been told that – but I just want them to know that the board is thinking of them, and that we wish them the best. And that the school district and the board will do whatever we need to, to ensure they feel safe.

Any indication of the football season's future for Dimond High?

No, but I do support their being suspended again this week. I realize there are other students out there who did not partake in this, and it’s impacting them and their season and my son – being a football player and president of the booster club – I would certainly be unhappy with the decision. But as a school board member, I do support it. I think until we finish our investigation, and know exactly the nature of what happened and all of the circumstances surrounding it, we can not start up the football season without knowing that and being able to keep our students safe.

Any word of the Dimond High allegations potentially involving faculty in any way?

No, I haven’t heard anything like that at all.

Gina Romero and Nick Swann contributed information to this story.

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