School officials allege flutes used in children’s music program may have been contaminated with semen – OCRegister
Several school districts across Southern California posted updates Saturday, Sept 30 regarding a state and federal investigation into a person suspected of distributing homemade flutes tainted with a bodily fluid to children in school music programs. An official with the Saugus Union School District said she was told the fluid was semen.
The Fullerton School District and the Saugus district in Santa Clarita both issued statements saying the state’s Department of Justice is investigating a musical performer associated with Flutes Across the World, a nonprofit music program that has partnerships with school districts in Orange County and Los Angeles as well as with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.
“The performer distributes a flute-like musical instrument made of PVC pipe or bamboo to students during a music lesson, and the allegation is that he contaminated some of these instruments with semen,” Joan Lucid, superintendent of the Saugus district, said in the email to parents Saturday.
The suspect has not been identified.
Officials with the Fullerton district said the music program at its schools was sponsored by the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and involved fourth- through sixth-grade students at Golden Hill and Rolling Hills elementary schools during the 2016-17 school year.
“Although presenters at our schools are never alone with children and are always supervised by a teacher or school staff, in an abundance of caution, this presenter will not return to the Fullerton School District,” the website said. “We were informed that this individual has worked in a number of school districts throughout California and we have no evidence to suggest any of our students are connected with the investigation.”
The Philharmonic Society is one of several arts entities that sponsored Flutes Across the World to bring the music program into schools, said Chantel Uchida, vice president of marketing and public relations for the group.
The group sponsored programs in six classrooms in three years, Uchida said.
“We’re so shocked and disgusted,” Uchida said about the allegations. “We will be stepping back from this. There are no plans to continue it in the future.”
A statement issued by the Los Angeles Unified School District said it was cooperating with investigators and “while our records indicate that this individual has never been an employee or registered volunteer in L.A. Unified, we have notified the parents and guardians of the one school that may be involved.”
According to several school district officials, a performer from Flutes Across the World handed out handmade, do-it-yourself flutes made of PVC plastic piping and a cork that could be decorated on the outside to students who participated in the music program.
A phone and email message to representatives for a group on the internet called Flutes Across the World were not returned as of press time. The website and Facebook page for the group were disabled as of Saturday.
Sgt. Jon Radus said the Fullerton Police Department is aware of the situation, but he said any information should come from the state’s Department of Justice, which is handling the investigation.
Multiple messages to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which is also investigating the case, were not returned Saturday.
Representatives for the state Office of the Attorney General said Friday, Sept. 29: “As part of the investigation, we are working with local law enforcement and school districts to collect instruments, for the California Department of Justice to process.”
The Saugus district partnered with Flutes Across the World in 2014, Lucid said, adding that she did not know how many students were affected.
Parents of children who received flutes through the program are being asked to place them in paper bags, Lucid said. She said plastic bags could deteriorate any forensic evidence. The district is waiting to hear from law enforcement officials on how the instruments will be collected.
The Fountain Valley School District and Newport-Mesa and Capistrano Unified districts also have sent messages to parents.
Fifth-grade students at Courreges Elementary School in the Fountain Valley district were given flutes that might have been contaminated, district officials said in a statement.
Officials with the Newport-Mesa Unified district said four classrooms at Sonora Elementary School in Costa Mesa were impacted.
District officials there were notified by Department of Justice officials that the investigation involved several other districts, Newport-Mesa board trustee Martha Fluor said Saturday.
“We have an arts program through the Segerstrom Center for the Arts called Arts Connect and this individual was at our school in regards to that in the spring of last year,” Fluor said.
In July, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana hosted an event with Flutes Across the World, which had children decorate their own West African flute.
Calls to Bowers were not returned Saturday.