Arrest of bus driver prompts meeting
On May 3, the Lake Oswego School District hosted a community safety meeting following the arrest of one of the district's bus drivers, Michel Shanon Harmon.
The Tigard resident was accused of possessing thousands of images and hundreds of videos containing child pornography. He faces one count of transportation of child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. Harman drove Bus 23 serving both Oak Creek Elementary School and Lake Oswego Junior High.
LOSD Superintendent Heather Beck started off the meeting by expressing her disgust over the allegations against Harmon, the fact she only found out about the allegations from The Review, and that Harmon was put on unpaid administrative leave once the district became aware of the situation.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the district's bus provider, Student Transportation of America (STA), and STA Site Manager DeeDee Macknair, as well as LOJ Principal Sara Deboy and other district administrators.
Macknair told parents at the meeting that as soon as STA found out about the charges against Harmon, they poured over all of their files on him to make sure they hadn't missed any red flags throughout the hiring and review processes.
"Up until this point, he has never been in trouble," she said.
Macknair said that at the time of the meeting she had watched 21 hours of bus surveillance video of Harmon.
"To parents of kids on his bus, I have not seen anything that, as a mother, I would be upset about," she said. "(In) the only instance I have seen so far where he was remotely alone with a child, there was a teacher right outside the door. The minimum amount of students that got on at his first stop was six. I will continue to watch video, but so far I just don't see any opportunity."
Dr. Wilson Kenney, a Lake Oswego resident and co-founder of the Center for Integrated Intervention, attended the community safety meeting to provide expert insight about adults who are attracted to or are abusive towards children, and to provide parents with tools to protect their children.
"Some of you may be asking, 'Why did it take so long for the district to find out about this?' That has to do with the way this type of crime is investigated and prosecuted," he explained. "The cops sweep in, seize all of the suspect's electronics, then spend time pouring over every piece of evidence. Then they come back, sometimes up to six months later, and make the arrest."
Kenney explained that grooming behaviors used by predators are similar to those one would use when trying to date someone. Examples include trying to get the person alone, touching them in a flirtatious manner and buying them gifts.
Kenney said that predators can often identify a child that would be easier to victimize.
"Predators can see who is more of a target. It's often children who are isolated, who lack meaningful relationships, especially with adults," he said. "They pick off the weakest of the heard."
Kenney encouraged parents to help their children get involved socially, and to remain involved in their activities. He advised having supervised playdates and for parents to be involved in the clubs and sports their children are in, and to always be there to pick them up on time.
If a child is experiencing some type of grooming behavior or outright abuse, it may be difficult for them to tell their parents.
"Young children often lack the vocabulary to express these feelings, so they may manifest themselves in physical ways," said Kenney. "You'll often see things like headaches and stomachaches, changes in appetite. If there's a massive change in sleep habits that's a big warning sign."
Kenney, who has two young children who will soon attend Oak Creek, also encouraged parents to be comfortable talking about sex as a normal part of conversation in the household.
"Discuss with your children that what you do with your body is up to you, and who touches you is up to you. Sex shouldn't be a forbidden topic that needs to be broached. Kids should know that if they have questions they can come to mom and dad when these things arise," said Kenney. "It's important to have open conversations with your children about what's appropriate and what's not."
Macknair encouraged all parents to reach out to her first if they have any concerns about their children's bus or driver.