“I worked side-by-side, in the office, with Bob, for five years. I was never, ever, uncomfortable with anything that was ever done there. I looked up to that man like he was a father. Like he was–had more knowledge about children, how to love those children, how to bring those children to a place where they should be. You know, they should be happy, they should feel nurtured, they should feel loved, they should have respect. And those kids love, respect, and truly cherish the environment that they had.”
— Former Creative Frontiers Secretary, speaking before Citrus Heights Mayor Jeannie Bruins
The scene at the Citrus Heights City Council meeting last night, 28 July 2011, ten days after the closure of Creative Frontiers School, was both wrenching and inspiring, as supporters of Robert Adams and CFS packed Council Chambers at the Civic Center, delivering a petition with 280 names, and pleading with authorities to re-open their school.
On July 18, California’s Department of Social Services, with the assistance of Citrus Heights Police, shut down Creative Frontiers after allegations of child sexual abuse lodged not by any student at the school, but by Irma Mertens, a 62-year-old ex-volunteer who was passed over for paid employment prior to going to authorities with her accusations.1 While Mertens, in a series of newspaper and television interviews, would quickly go on to embellish and contradict her original statements to authorities,2 the actual students, teachers, and parents of Creative Frontiers School are telling a very different story about Adams, the school, and the actions of state and local authorities.
Read all posts on Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers:
Aug 14, 2011: Issues with Timing and PR
July 29, 2011: Supporters Petition City Hall
July 25, 2011: Students Rally to Support CFS
“Scared, huddling in corners, crying and screaming. . . .”
On July 18th, armed officers from the CHPD descended on the preschool and elementary schools, in the middle of summer sessions, serving a search warrant during school hours while local media–who had received a press release from CHPD prior to the notification of students’ parents–rolled cameras in the parking lot.
According to witness statements at City Council, the police raid terrified the children, and some officers needlessly broke doors for which they had been given keys, while other officers, in the school playground, engaged in “jocularity” such as “horsey rides.”
A parent of two children at Creative Frontiers stood before Mayor Jeannie Bruins and implored, “Madam Mayor–you’re responsible for the police department’s actions. And the actions that took place at the school on the day that search warrant was served, were absolutely appalling. . . .”
The parent speaking before Mayor Bruins–a tall, fit man with a shaved head–looked as though he could be a police officer himself:
There was breaking of furniture, breaking of doorknobs—when police clearly had keys in their hands, so that they wouldn’t have to break the doorknobs. Jocularity. Horseback rides, from one police officer to another—on the school grounds, during the search warrant service.
There was one quote, I’d like to bring up, that kind of personifies what happened on that day. This is from the Huffington Post in NY, last Tuesday. “Spokesman Kempf, from the Citrus Heights Police Department, said that a daycare program for preschoolers was all that was in session when the search warrant was served.” A clear, blatant lie. My daughter, in 4th grade, and 50 other students her age, were in class the same day, when the search warrant was served. They were scared, huddling in corners, crying and screaming, not knowing what was going on.3
Another parent testified that when he arrived, he was not allowed past the front gate of the school:
[The CHPD] came. They took our names. They didn’t ask us for ID. They came up, said “Who’s your son or daughter, and I gave them my son’s name. “What class is he in? Is he in preschool or in elementary?” I said, “Elementary.” He said, “We’ll take care of it. Stand over there.” They didn’t ask for my ID. They didn’t ask for anything. The way this was all handled was just insane. And if you saw what they did to these kids in the classrooms–they were scared. They were crying. They didn’t know what was going on. And they were like this for hours.4
“I know, wholeheartedly, my dad is innocent. But I’m here to talk about reopening the school.”
Adams’s three daughters, Courtney, Shelby, and Tarah–themselves mothers, professionals, supporters–stood before City Council not only to defend their father, but to defend the school he founded. Courtney, after earning her college degree in psychology and child studies, returned to Creative Frontiers so she could work alongside her father at the best school she’d ever known.5
“We are Mr. Bob’s daughters,” she told City Council, proudly. “I’m his youngest daughter, Courtney. And I’m speaking on behalf of everyone here, all the parents, and community, teachers, family, everybody.” She then turned to face the crowd of supporters, many of whom were wearing red shirts bearing the school’s logo” “I thank you guys for all coming today, and supporting my dad and supporting the school. It means a lot to him,” she said, “and it means a lot to us,” she added, her voice beginning to crack.
“I’ll try to hold myself together,” she said, returning her focus to Mayor Bruins.
“Our family, our entire family is committed to providing educational opportunities for the children, for the community,” Courtney continued. “This school in Citrus Heights is one out of seven WASC-accredited schools in Sacramento. This is an institution. This is a model. Not any school can be a WASC-accredited school. I was on the committee,” she explained.
It’s not just Mr. Bob that runs the school. It’s not just my mom. It’s the parents. It’s the teachers. It’s the community. The children. They all have a say in how this business runs and operates.
I was a part of that [WASC] report, a 400-page document, that we provided, on how our school is run, incorporating all the stakeholders. To close a school, to close this institution, it’s absurd. I don’t understand how. If one person needs to be investigated, pull that person out. But don’t close the school. For the children. Don’t make them suffer. [Applause.] Don’t make the kids suffer. Don’t make the families suffer.
I know, wholeheartedly, my dad is innocent. But I’m here to talk about reopening the school. So, please, do it for the kids. Do it for the parents. [Beginning to cry.] They’re sitting here. I mean, if you go to our Facebook page–I know that seems silly, but–we have over two-hundred people on there, telling their testimonies. . . [Such as] How many times have they cried about their school? How many times have they said, they want to go back? And they don’t understand. And [one child asked], When the cops leave, can Mr. Bob have his school back? Can we all go back to school, and can it be the same again? Can we give the kids this school back? That’s all I’m asking. Thank you.
“I was in and out of that office on a daily basis. . . Every room, every classroom was wide open for parents.”
Standing at the podium before City Council, one woman recounted that two of her daughters had attended Creative Frontiers, and that her family and the Adams family became friends–and had stayed friends since–as a result of her oldest child’s enrollment in 1982.
Ms. Sandy and I were both pregnant with our youngest daughters. [Begins to cry.] And our middle daughters were best friends. And [these girls] grew up together. These girls are like my own children almost. I’ve known their parents since 1982. . . My kids spent the night at Bob and Sandy’s house. Their kids spent the night at my house. There was never any misconduct on the part of Mr. Bob at any time, any shape, anywhere.
I was a member of the Parent Teacher Association. I served as Secretary and President during the years that I was there. I was in and out of that office on a daily basis until the early to mid-’90s when my kids went to another school. There was never any conduct, on the part of any staff member, that raised any concern with me. And I was very concerned about that. I was a very active parent. I was never told I couldn’t go into any place. I mean, every room, every classroom was wide open for parents to be there, to help, to work, and I worked on every committee, and I worked with Bob and Sandy for years, when my kids attended. There’s no reason to close this school that makes any sense to me.
I actually was on vacation in Oregon when this came out, and all three of my daughters were shocked. My husband and I were shocked. We really have just felt awful for the way that Bob has been treated by the press, by the police, by the community of Citrus Heights. He’s been in this community for 35 years. How can we let one disgruntled employee ruin a man’s reputation? I don’t know that he’ll ever get his life back. . . .
You’ve heard the parents. Nothing has changed in all the years–35 years. That school is open to parents. They can go in there. There’s never a quiet time in that office. The kids feel free to go in. All the time. There’s nothing going on, wrong, there. And this has been a travesty of justice. . . . .
Another woman testified, who not only sent her daughters to Creative Frontiers, but who worked alongside Bob for five years. “I’m here as a character witness, a former employee, a parent, and also a very concerned community member,” she told Mayor Bruins and the Council.
I’ve known Bob since 1995. So, sixteen years. I came on to his staff as a receptionist after my daughter had been going to school there. She started out at two years old. . . When I had my second daughter, immediately I thought, I can’t wait until she turns two. She’s going to get to go to this great school. And we sent her there. And she’s been happy. All of the kids are [happy].
I worked side-by-side, in the office, with Bob, for five years. I was never, ever, uncomfortable with anything that was ever done there. I looked up to that man like he was a father. Like he was–had more knowledge about children, how to love those children, how to bring those children to a place where they should be. You know, they should be happy, they should feel nurtured, they should feel loved, they should have respect. And those kids love, respect, and truly cherish the environment that they had.
This school–it’s not just a place that I cherish. I have referred more friends, more family, to this school than I can tell you. And even people who are outside of this community, they’ve heard of Creative Frontiers. This is a staple to our community. . . .
I’m looking for a school to match what I had, and for a week and a half now, almost two weeks I can’t find it. It’s not out there. The public schools? Give me a break. Are you kidding? A one [teacher] to thirty-one [student] ratio? What is that? That’s a crime. The teachers [at CFS], they love these children. They make the curriculum exactly what each child needs. Even the after-school teachers, they know the parents, they know everyone. It’s an environment that is family-friendly. We have campouts, for goodness sake. Everybody comes together. We sing songs. Mr. Bob, with his guitar, is out there singing songs with everybody. This is a family. This is a community. And, yeah, I’m impacted by it. All these people, they’re all impacted by it. Citrus Heights, now, is impacted by it. . . .
Another parent told City Council that she had searched for the right school for her son with special needs, and found it in Creative Frontiers. There, she told City Council, her voice shaking at times, her son “thrived” and “started making friends instead of being shunned and hiding.” She said her son now “wants to go to school every day, instead of crying and worrying all the time,” and that he showed “incredible progress” at the school and that “Creative Frontiers is at the core of that growth. Mr. Bob and the staff created an environment of absolute acceptance for the individual, and they teach the children how to accept, respect, help, teach, and care for each other.”
“As a parent with a child who needs extra help to learn and interact,” the mother continued,
I have spent countless hours in the classroom, participating in outings and events, as well as wandering about the grounds at Creative Frontiers. I have always felt free to enter the classrooms or the office areas at any time and I never saw or heard anything out of the ordinary. I have never witnessed any inappropriate behavior by any staff members and have never even seen Mr. Bob alone in the office. I am a very nosey person. I watch and listen as I feel it is my job. . . .
She could not protect her child, however, from the actions of police and social services on July 18th, which, she said, has uprooted and injured her son.That afternoon, she said, his “entire world was stolen from him: his friends, his community, his teachers, & his environment.” Fighting tears, she continued:
Everything that was helping him thrive and grow is gone. Everything that was supporting our family in educating our son, was taken away in a flash. No one seemed to care about my son or his classmates. Certainly not any of the authorities involved, who contacted the media but not the parents of the children. Certainly not the police, who did not first inform us that our children were OK, but ordered us to park and go to a table. Certainly not the department of social services, who failed to check ID to determine if the person picking them up had the legal right to the child, and who only provided information, basically, on [other available] daycares and preschools. (We were an elementary school too.) Finally, certainly not the police or department of social services, who have done nothing for the children or families.
“If this was a public school there would have been counseling and referrals offered,” the mother added, questioning, “Don’t we pay taxes, too?”
The Rallies Continue
Today, CFS students and their parents will be rallying outside their school again, asking to let the children return. Though I’ve spent far too long researching child sexual abuse, I cannot cite another instance where children marched in the streets to be allowed to return to the scene of their alleged abuses.
Indeed, this is an historic moment in the thirty years since the first high-profile cases of this type6 emerged in Bakersfield, Kern County, and in Manhattan Beach, with its infamous McMartin Preschool fiasco. Never before has the U.S. witnessed such an overwhelming show of support for the falsely accused, or for the targeted school, as this country is witnessing, right now, in the support for Bob Adams and Creative Frontiers.
Not that it should come as a surprise. Every day since the school’s shutdown, CFS supporters, students past and present, and their parents–the very people whom Detective Joe Rangel and Citrus Heights Police have been led to believe are victims–have been trying to get the ears of the media. They have been posting on Facebook. They have been holding signs and writing in chalk, rallying in the street–trying, to little or no avail, to get reporters to listen to them.
As of today, however, things are beginning to change. Not only did Mayor Jeannie Bruins listen with rapt attention, last night, as CFS students and parents asked for her help and for the help of the Council, but, as of this morning, articles and newscasts are beginning to reflect the breadth and depth of support for CFS and Robert Adams.
Media of Coverage of Student, Teacher, and Parent Support for Creative Frontiers School and Principal Robert Adams
While it is unfortunate that The Sacramento Bee’s Cynthia Hubert, writing prior to the Council meeting, reports that “some”7 parents of CFS students are part of an online show of support, I can only imagine that, rather than trying to hedge her bets, Hubert simply made a poor choice in words. Clearly, the better non-committal adjective is “many”–though “hundreds” would be most accurate, given that Hubert herself joined the Creative Frontiers Facebook group when, with the exception of myself, members of Adams family, and faculty, the group’s nearly 200 members (now over 200) reflected the level of support from students past and present, as well as their parents, among the percentage who are on Facebook and knew of the group’s existence, which was decidedly low-key prior to last week’s debacle.
Hubert then acknowledges, however, that less than 48 hours days after CFS supporters linked their Facebook group to an online petition, they received “more than 200 signatures . . . pledging support for Adams and urging the city to ‘restore’ the school.”8
In the same article–after detailing for SacBee readers, yet again, the uncorroborated allegations against Robert Adams–Hubert goes on to state that the Adamses “blame a former volunteer[,] who was denied a full-time job at the school[,] for spreading false allegations.” 9 I can only imagine that Hubert had intended, but perhaps forgot, to state clearly that, in fact, it is this former volunteer, Irma Mertens, who made these allegations. Not that she is being “blamed for” making them, but that Mertens, in fact, made them.
Whether Mertens’s motivations stem from being passed over for employment at CFS just prior to her allegations–allegations that do not appear in social service documents at the times Mertens claims to have witnessed these horrible things, but appear only after she was passed over for employment–Hubert is correct to leave SacBee readers to decide.
More encouraging, and more accurate, is the SacBee article written by Matt Kawahara, “Principal’s backers protest to Citrus Heights City Council,”10 as well as other articles (here and here, among others) and television reports (here and here, among others) that appear far less tentative, now that actual students at the school, and their parents, are finally being heard.
As I say in a previous post, it is vitally important–more important now than it will be, later, should the state actually allocate funds to pursuing these allegations–that this story is reported correctly and ethically, and that Irma Mertens’s accusations are carefully examined at the same time that they are given their proper context amid the sea of children and parents presently expressing their support for Robert Adams and Creative Frontiers school.
More Parent Testimony
In honor of the last night’s history-making at Citrus Heights City Council, and in honor of the second Creative Frontiers rally, today, I would like to conclude this post with some of the earlier testimonies I received from parents of CFS students.[PLEASE NOTE: While CFS parents proudly sign their names to their testimonies on the CFS Facebook group page, and while they were more than happy to let me know their names in the email correspondences that follow, I have chosen to make the following parents anonymous for one simple reason: the CFS Facebook page is G-rated, but my blog, alas, is not; I do not want to attach their names through whatever unrelated “muck” I may rake in the future :-) ]
Please don’t mistake my hostility for lack of respect for authority. My father was a Sacramento police officer for 25 years, and I myself worked at the DA’s office for 2 years. I have never seen such a lack of respect for children and teachers in a very uncomfortable situation. I understand that when allegations are made, true or false, they have to be investigated but, to say this was carried out poorly was an understatement. This was a school full of children! This was not a drug house or battle zone! But that was how it was carried out. All I can say is, I’m DISGUSTED!
I was one of the first parents on scene on Monday the 18th. It was ironic that I showed up when I did. We had scheduled a doctor appointment for my child in the early afternoon, and were going to take her to the fair after, so we decided to pick her up early from school. I never did receive a call!
I also have friends who have older kids in the upper grades who have told me first hand of how the armed police came into their classrooms terrifying them all as if an armed maniac was on the loose in the school.
Fortunately, my daughter was asleep during nap time when the police “raided” the classrooms in an orchestrated storm, like a drug raid. My daughter was very confused to be woken up by a stranger–standing over her while she was on the floor on her nap mat–offering her a new toy to come with them so they can take her to her mommy and daddy! What did that just teach my 3 year old?
Further, when I arrived, I was handed papers and simply told to “Fill out this form and sign your name.” They asked what my daughters name was and what class she was in. That was it! No ID check, no verifying emergency cards to make sure I was who I said, or that I was authorized to pick her up! When I asked questions I was simply told to attend the meeting at the community center which was in just over an hour. Needless to say, my daughter did not make it to her doctor appointment. When we were at the meeting we got very little questions answered, only a whole lot of “We can not release that information” or “You woulds need to ask DSS”–who were not present.
I was also at the rally on Friday and saw first hand the carnage the police left in their wake in the office. I would be more than happy to share what I saw and what I know.11
There is no other school like Creative Frontiers within a 10 mile radius and there is no other school like it anywhere on the planet, if that makes any sense. There are other Montessori-like schools, but none has this familial, it-takes-a-village feeling to it. That’s why we fell in love with it. My son never attended any other school. He started there at age 4 and he was really excited to finish his elementary school years there this coming school year as a 6th grader. All his hopes of that are dashed and he is trying to adjust to the idea of starting at a brand new school. There are a lot of parochial schools like CF, but none of them that are secular. The school is on a 7-acre estate. It’s set far back from the road and it’s lovely. They have their own swimming pool and horses graze in a little pasture at the front of the school. It’s just very idyllic and sweet. It feels like home.
If Mr. Bob is guilty of these crimes, I need hard-core evidence and a unanimous jury to tell me so. I do not believe he harmed children. I believe his affectionate hugs of the children were misinterpreted and misconstrued by malicious opportunists who were not given the employment they wanted.12
My daughter has spent 8 years at CFS and we have never felt uncomfortable there. It is her second home. The education she has received is unbelievable. Year after year her test scores show her above her grade level. Now where do I send my child? I have less than a month to find a school for her, and I spent months doing research before I enrolled her in CFS. I don’t want her in public school and there are not that many private schools in the area that are not church based. My daughter’s education has been put at risk. Mr. Bob still hasn’t been charged or arrested of a crime. The main witness can’t keep her story straight, and can someone please tell me why she didn’t grab that child and call 911 if she saw Mr. Bob do something? I know I would have. Plus every parent in that school would of known what I saw.
My child and husband were at the rally. You have one of her signs on your blog–amazing what an 11 year old can come up with on her own, seeing what effects this situation is having on everyone. According to my husband, the news didn’t even come close to showing how many people where there. Unfortunately the news is not interested in showing both sides of the story, and I feel the children are the ones being forgotten.
Thank you, from a proud parent at CFS.13
My son came from a rough daycare background. One daycare was physically harming him (bruising etc), and the next one was forced to relocate due to the failing economy. [My son] felt abandoned. I had already toured CFS and knew we were going to go there eventually. So, I emailed Bob to see if there was an opening for my son, who was 3 at the time. He called me back within 10 minutes and put me at ease. We toured again that week and [my son] started the next week. That was 3 years ago. Bob has always been there to help with any concerns I’ve had and does so many special things for the kids. Campouts, the 4th of July parade, and kindergarten graduation just last month.
Bob knows every student, every parent and many grandparents. I know [last week] won’t be the last interaction that we have with Bob.
It has been a week of pain for the kids, parents and the Adams’. This time last week I was getting clothes ready for school. This week I’m wondering when I’ll be able to do that again.
We had to find an alternate school just in case our beloved CFS doesn’t re-open in time for the first day of school, which was so hard. My son just wants to be back with his friends, teachers and Mr Bob.
Some people may think this will harm our school but it’s only going to make us stronger. I will walk my son back over to that school the second it re-opens!14
1 “I find it interesting, the timing on it,” Robert Adams’s attorney, Linda Parisi, told KCRA TV.
In response to questions about the timing of her allegations, Mertens flatly lied, again, telling KCRA reporters, “When I started finding out about that stuff, I don’t [sic] want to work for this guy.” According to DSS reports and Mertens other public statements, however, Mertens had already claimed to have witnessed abuse first-hand over a year before the July 2011 shut down of the school.
“Accused Principal: ‘I’m Innocent.’ Citrus Heights School Leader Denies Molesting Students” KCRA TV. July 20, 2011. http://www.kcra.com/r/28611879/detail.html
2 Among other things, Mertens added new, lurid, and flatly ludicrous detail–such as watching Adams, in his office in the middle of the school day, stick his thumb in a child’s rectum. “He was massaging her buttocks, and all of the sudden I saw his right thumb go in the child’s rectum,” Mertens told News 10 reporter Nick Monacelli [“Father: State was told principal was suspected of molesting students” News 10 Jul 19, 2011], though she’d failed to tell authorities anything of the sort, prior to their acting on her false allegations. Mertens would also later explain that her alleged eyewitness account echoed her own terrible abuse as a child (see (1:10) of this ABC video).
Also of note, in Monacelli’s article, are the statements of Mr. McBride, who claimed that he pulled his own daughter out of the school after a “suspicious bruise” on her thigh. What McBride failed to mention, and what none in the media bothered to investigate, is that what is most “suspicious” about McBride’s bruise story is that it follows directly on the heels of McBride’s history of waging unsuccessful legal actions (according to court documents here and here) against the school.
3 From Citrus Heights City Council Meeting 28 July 2011. [Author transcript.] The actual Huffington Post quote is “Police said a daycare program for preschoolers had been in session when the school was shut down.” According to HP, then, Citrus Heights Police Police did not say that preschool was the only thing in session, but police certainly omitted the fact that elementary summer classes were also in session. [Sheila V. Kumar. “California School Closes After Child Sex Abuse Allegations” Huffington Post/AP 18 July 2011 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/18/california-school-child-molestation_n_902210.html]
4 Citrus Heights City Council Meeting 28 July 2011. [Author transcript.]
5 Personal communication with the author.
6 i.e., cases based on false allegations of multi-victim abuses at schools and daycares, allegations that do not begin with any actual child victims, but with distraught adults possessing dubious, if not malicious, intent.
7 Cynthia Hubert. “Supporters of principal in sex case to demand reopening of Citrus Heights school.” The Sacramento Bee. Jul. 28, 2011 http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/28/3799515/supporters-of-principal-in-sex.html
10 Matt Kawahara. “Principal’s backers protest to Citrus Heights City Council.” The Sacramento Bee Jul. 29, 2011 http://www.sacbee.com/2011/07/29/3802528/principals-backers-protest-to.html
11 Personal communication with the author.