Ray Carter | September 13, 2023
Western Heights parent worried by school’s response to child-abuse report
A parent in the Western Heights school district is concerned by school officials’ response to her report of alleged in-school abuse of her child by another student.
The incident comes as Western Heights is also under scrutiny for hiring as principal Shane Murnan, a man previously accused, but not convicted, of possessing child pornography.
Because the alleged victim is a minor child, OCPA has chosen not to use the mother’s real name to prevent the child from being publicly identified.
On Tuesday, Aug. 29, Jane said she was contacted by a school official and informed that her five-year-old daughter had been acting out in class and was also complaining of vaginal pain. The latter detail did not cause immediate concern because the young child has occasional problems with bathroom hygiene.
But when Jane picked her daughter up from school that afternoon, her daughter told her a classmate had crawled into her bathroom stall at school and touched her genital area. Jane said the child’s private areas were inflamed.
Her daughter’s behavior chart for that day also indicated the girl had done very well in the morning, but that her behavior changed dramatically late in the day.
Jane said she called the principal at Western Heights’ John Glenn Elementary, Shane Murnan, and alerted the principal’s office to the reported sexual battery. She also took her child to a hospital for an exam and reported the incident to Oklahoma City police. The family had to wait more than five hours for an exam at OU Children’s Hospital, she said.
A report was also made to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, but Jane said she has not yet been contacted by an investigator from that agency.
The following morning, Jane met with Murnan and discussed the alleged incident. Jane said Murnan told her the other child would not be allowed in school until the school’s investigation was completed. However, the child was back at Western Heights school by Thursday morning, just two days after the incident.
While the other child was moved to another classroom, Jane said she believes that is not enough.
“They’re still in the same hallway of Kindergarteners,” Jane said. “They’re still going to see each other during school. My daughter shouldn’t have to see the face of somebody that violated her.”
During the meeting with the principal, Jane said Murnan stated the school has a policy that prohibits adults from being in the bathroom with children.
“He just said, ‘We don’t allow adults in the bathroom. It’s just our policy. I don’t feel comfortable with it,” Jane recalled.
It was not until after her meeting with Murnan that Jane said she became aware of Murnan’s past, which includes a prior allegation of possession of child pornography and a history of performing as a drag queen, including at events aimed at children.
In 2001, Murnan was charged with possession of child pornography. At that time, the Tulsa World reported that an affidavit for a search warrant revealed that four images “of adolescent white males performing sex acts with each other” had been recovered from Murnan’s computer by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
A lengthy legal process ensued and Murnan was never convicted. The charges were eventually expunged.
Murnan also performs as a drag queen under the stage name Shantel Mandalay.
Jane fears Murnan’s background may have played an indirect role in creating a situation where children are left both isolated and unsupervised in school bathrooms, allowing incidents like her daughter’s alleged sexual battery to occur.
“You have this background, and you are skittish about adults being in there and supervising children,” Jane said, referencing Murnan.
After Jane wrote about the incident on social media, she said Western Heights Superintendent Brayden Savage set up a meeting, but little came of it.
During the meeting, Savage said the district had taken a statement from the other student, and the child had admitted to crawling into the same stall as Jane’s daughter but had not admitted touching Jane’s daughter.
During the meeting with Savage, Jane noted that her daughter “had been hurting for days” since the reported abuse, and noted the other child involved in the incident could also be a victim of abuse.
“There’s something going on with this little girl, most likely,” Jane told Savage.
Jane also said other parents should be made aware of the incident to better protect all children.
“What happened to her isn’t even being acknowledged,” Jane told Savage. “None of the other parents know and I don’t think that that’s quite fair.”
A school counselor reached out to the family to see if Jane wanted her daughter to receive services. Jane said she declined, saying her trust in school officials is nonexistent after the abuse incident and after school officials quietly hired Murnan despite his background.
Western Heights school officials issued a statement in response to a request for comment, saying the schools’ “facilities are designed with careful consideration for supervision and efficiency. Our restroom facilities are equipped with rows of stalls opposite of each other, one designated for males and one designated for females, with wash basins centrally located. This layout is intended to facilitate teacher and/or staff supervision during restroom breaks. It is important to note that our teachers are actively engaged in monitoring students during these times, and in the event of any issue, they are prepared to intervene promptly.”
Following the recent report of abuse, the school statement said parents “were promptly notified, and a comprehensive investigation was initiated. This process involves obtaining statements from all parties involved, as well as any potential witnesses. Additionally, all appropriate agencies were notified.”
“We remain committed to the safety and security of our students and will continue to work diligently to create a safe learning environment for all,” the Western Heights school statement concluded. “We appreciate the cooperation and support of our community during this time.”
Jane said she has removed her children from Western Heights due to concerns about their safety.
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.