Murdered Student's Educators Call for More Communication

Dec 22, 2011

FRANKFORT — Todd County school officials appeared before Kentucky’s Joint Committee on Health and Welfare in Frankfort Monday to share their side of the Amy Dye story. Following the testimony of Patricia Wilson, who recently resigned as the commissioner of the Department for Community Based Services, Todd County Schools Superintendent Mike Kenner, Assistant Superintendent Vicki Myers and South Todd Elementary Principal Camille Dillingham addressed discrepancies in the cabinet’s previous statements to the same panel.

Though the cabinet admitted no fault in the Feb. 4 murder of 9-year-old Trenton girl Amy Dye, the most notable discrepancy was that of the number of reports the school officials said they reported and the number the cabinet has on file.

“The thing that’s as disturbing to me as anything is the cabinet said they only got three phone calls, and I trust what the superintendent and everybody is telling me — there were six of them,” said state Sen. Joey Pendleton (D-Hopkinsville) after the meeting.

“I don’t think we got the truth today. I was hoping since Pat was leaving we would’ve gotten the heart and truth of everything, but I don’t feel like we got all of it after the school testified.”

Another discrepancy was that of the substance of reports recorded by the cabinet and the school.

When the school reported Amy had bruises and scratches on different parts of her body, Wilson said cabinet investigations found that there was no abuse or neglect since the alleged perpetrator was one of Amy’s brothers and not a caretaker.

Kenner said Amy’s stories would change from when she initially spoke with school staff to when social workers questioned her. When social workers received the same answers from Amy, her brothers and parents, Wilson said those reports were dismissed as accidents.

“These boys were preteen and teenagers,” Wilson said. “She was 5 years old. She was a newcomer to their household - I’m not excusing any behaviors - but I always will offer to you ... many people with siblings inflict bruises on each other and it’s not through the parents’ lack of care or concern.”

Dillingham, who hesitated to share too much confidential information, said she remembered the bruises, but also recalled reporting incidents of abuse of a different nature.

Kenner said he and his staff realize that kids can be kids, but when they decide to report something, it is because the situation breaches the norm.

“We see and deal with these children everyday,” Kenner said. “We’re not reporting cases just to be reporting them. If one sibling is being allowed to abuse another sibling in the home, to me that is neglect of the caregiver. We understand that two brothers get into a fight. We don’t call very often saying, ‘well, this is abuse because two siblings got into a fight.’ It’s when things rise to a level that go beyond what we know is normal.”

As educators, the school officials were asked by Sen. Joe Bowen (R-Owensboro) to grade the cabinet’s efforts. 

“That’s very difficult to do because if I looked only at the Amy Dye case, I would have to absolutely say an F,” Kenner said after a moment of hesitation. “On the other hand, I know there are cases where they have helped, but if you’re talking about communication with us and working with the school, I’d still have to give them a D at best.”

Lack of communication was the main topic of discussion at Monday’s panel which lasted almost three hours.

“Our main job (as educators) is to protect and educate our children,” Dillingham said. “In the case of Amy, I believe that our job was hindered because the communication was not there.”

The school has records of calling in six reports during 2007 regarding suspicion of abuse or neglect against Amy Dye. Those reports were given to a regional call intake center in Eddyville. 

“We don’t ever even know whether they’ve written it down,” Kenner said. “We’re told, obviously the commissioner said, they have everything down, but we don’t see that. How do we know if no one ever calls and talks to us?”

Kenner said he believes the cabinet uses confidentiality as an excuse to not communicate with other involved entities.

“We understand not everything they do with that case we need to know, but the total secrecy of not ever knowing if they even investigate ... is not acceptable in the Amy Dye case or in any case,” Kenner said. “Schools have a need to know and you can’t hide behind confidentiality.”

State Rep. Martha Jane King (D-Lewisburg) posed a question to Wilson regarding follow-up between the cabinet and school systems.

“Educators are required by law to report abuse,” King said. “When an educator calls the intake line to report a case, why is it that they are not allowed to receive a follow-up from the cabinet? If we put them in the loop with the cabinet, it looks to me that we can do a lot better job with teamwork.”

Wilson said the cabinet can report back to a source that some type of response has been made, but the substance of that cannot be shared.

However, school officials said there was never any follow-up between the cabinet and the school system involving Amy Dye.

When asked what the school would have done differently in Amy’s case if the cabinet had communicated, the school officials said they would have been more aware of things they did not know until after Amy had been killed.

Following their reports in the spring of 2007, Amy left the Dyes’ home in Trenton that fall. Dillingham and Myers said the school was under the impression that social services had pulled Amy from the home as a result of an investigation, again placing her with the Dyes a year later after problems had been resolved.

“We assumed that they had worked with her and taken her out of the home because it had gotten so bad and she was removed from the home for most of the school year and then brought back,” Myers said. “We read about it in the paper that she wasn’t; we thought she had been.”

Dillingham said the schools never received confirmation that Amy attended school during that time she was with her grandmother in Utah due to lack of communication from social workers.

Kenner said despite not knowing what actions are taking place on the cabinet’s end, the schools always have the responsibility to report any suspected abuse or neglect.

King, school officials and other legislators attending the hearing kept referencing the need for some type of partnership between schools and the cabinet.

“Where they say they check on the children once a month, we check on them every single day,” Kenner said. “The school is where they are. If they’re in an abusive or neglective home, the school is the one place where they feel safe and comfortable. Wouldn’t it make sense that we just set up a system where the cabinet, whose job is to protect children, and the school, whose one of many jobs is to protect children, could share that information so we can both be better at what we do?”

Myers shared possible suggestions for improvement within the cabinet and communication between the agency and schools, including looking at the cabinet’s record-keeping system, reviewing the evaluation process that tracks professional development of workers, establishing an annual review for the state and local agencies and improving the overall system of checks and balances.

Myers also suggested utilizing Infinite Campus as a mode of communication between the two entities. 

While Wilson denied any responsibility by the cabinet in Amy Dye’s death, she did recognize need for better communication.

“I think you’ve identified something that’s critically important,” Wilson said to the legislative panel. “It’s not what you do when there’s a crisis, it’s what you do the rest of the time. I think the communication is certainly one that could be more open. I think there is probably room for better communication. What that would look like, I’m not sure.”

King said with today’s technology, lack of communication should not be an issue.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have file-sharing, a portal that everybody can go to,” King said following the meeting. “Why not integrate that into something where everyone that’s related to the situation can get on and share, not necessarily giving confidential information. We’ve got all these government agencies doing the same job, that are concerned about these kids, yet there’s no interaction between the two because of confidentiality.”

Myers later addressed the idea of a red-flag warning system in which immediacy could be specified on certain reports.

“If there was some way we could communicate something big is going on here, because honestly we’re treated the same when we call intake whether it’s a life-or-death matter or a bus driver yelling at a student,” she said.

One of those red flags, Kenner said, was when Chris Dye returned to the home in his parenting role. Dye, who allegedly beat his son and Amy’s murderer, Garrett Dye, after the boy was caught carrying a gun at school, was not in the home when Amy was adopted but moved in later.

Myers said within the school district, some changes have been made as a result of Amy’s death. School personnel now fill out a triplicate form when they call in a report. Copies are kept on file at the central office as well as at the respective school. Another copy is sent as a follow-up to social services.

Kenner said he does not believe the cabinet has looked back at what could have been different in Amy Dye’s case.

“We’ve looked at ourselves and reflected,” Kenner said after giving his testimony. “I think that’s what any organization should do. I’m just going to be honest and I don’t mean this as throwing stones, but it does not seem to me that the cabinet has taken the opportunity to reflect and learn from this when we’re still getting the same line about the sibling. To me, it doesn’t matter who’s doing the abuse. When it’s a sibling, to me, if parents are not taking steps to prevent it, they’re being neglectful.”

Kenner said being able to share the school’s side of the story offers some hope in an otherwise tragic situation.

“I think that the committee was listening to our concerns,” he said. “I think the door is opened for something to be done. It’s just frustrating when you feel like simple communication could help. I think we’re more vigilant; when we really feel like there’s a problem, we’re not going to take that same line. I think it’s woke us up that if the cabinet’s not going to take it seriously and we feel there’s a real danger, we’re not going to just stop there.”

After legislators commended the school representatives for standing up and sharing their experiences, Kenner returned the thank you and responded with the real reason why the officials felt the need to make the trip to Frankfort.

“One thing we want to make sure is Amy Dye’s life did count for something,” he concluded his testimony.