Retiring in Peace

Retiring in Peace

Ricki Harvey’s dismissed charges provides vindication for supporters.

Luanne Grabski, past president of Dogwood Elementary School’s PTSA, called charges against Principal Ricki Harvey “ill-founded.”

“The judge did the right thing,” said Grabski, who attended Harvey’s trial to support her.

Last Thursday, June 23, days before her retirement, Harvey, 55, was cleared of charges for failing to report suspected child abuse by Kenneth Bayer, an 88-year-old school volunteer at Dogwood.

After hearing the arguments and testimony offered by the prosecution, Judge Ian M. O’Flaherty dismissed the charges before Harvey’s attorney even had a chance to present her side.

For many of Harvey’s supporters the charges were an attack to the popular principal’s distinguished 33 years of service as a Fairfax County educator and principal.

“Mrs. Harvey would never, ever put a child in harm’s way,” Grabski said three months ago after the charges against Harvey were issued.

With the charges dismissed without even a defense rebuttal to the prosecution’s case, many people in the community have called for the restoration of her good name.

Grabski, who has a daughter entering the sixth grade at Dogwood and two other children who finished elementary school there, called the case a “witch hunt.”

“There has been an outpouring of support from the community,” said Grabski. “She has shared with me that she’s received many, many emails of support.”

Harvey, who announced her retirement in February and was named Virginia's National Distinguished Principal last year, was charged in April after police received complaints while investigating Bayer.

The prosecution claimed parents and teachers told Harvey that Bayer had inappropriate contact with students, and that Harvey was legally bound to report to authorities. In March, Bayer was arrested for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, according to police reports. The alleged victim never attended Dogwood.

“I really appreciate the unconditional support that I have received from the Dogwood community,” said Harvey after being cleared of the charges. “I've worked really hard to make people understand what a wonderful school Dogwood is and what wonderful students we have and I want them to continue to believe.”

School Board Member Stu Gibson (Hunter Mill) said that Harvey would be “enormously missed” by the school system. “I’m very happy that Ricki Harvey can retire with her stellar reputation intact,” said Gibson. “From the dismissal of the charges, this incident will be just a blip on the radar and soon forgotten.”

“We’ll miss her, but her legacy will always be there,” he said.

“We are happy that the charges were dismissed,” said Paul Regnier, spokesman for Fairfax County Public Schools. “She is a long-term principal with the school system. She had an excellent career with us.

“At the same time, we take the issues at hand in the case very seriously,” Regnier said.

HARVEY BECAME an educator in the county in 1974 and a principal in 1990. She became principal at Dogwood in 1999 under trying circumstances. The same year she arrived, the school was given an “at risk” classification based on national standards. Enrollment for English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) programs has increased 300 percent since she arrived, and now these students make up more than one-third of the school’s total student enrollment, much higher than the county average. More than half of the student body is eligible for free or reduced-price meals, a measure for poverty in schools.

In her second year, Harvey steered the school through a difficult period when the school burned down in an overnight electrical fire. Students were bused to other area schools. Harvey is recognized for helping maintain a sense of school and community during the 14 months it took to rebuild a new school.

Ten days prior to her day in court, Harvey celebrated her retirement from Fairfax County Public Schools — which both Gibson and Grabski attended.

“I was so impressed with the outreach and magnitude in which Ricki has touched so many lives,” said Grabski, referring to the dozens of people that attended Harvey’s retirement party. “Her career, it’s a storied career, and she’s done remarkable things for children,” said Grabski.

— Ken Moore contributed to this article.