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New emails sent to Voice of San Diego may shed light on the lengths San Diego Unified School District officials went to assess student complaints about longtime La Jolla High teacher Martin Teachworth in 2013. They also bring up questions about whether the district violated public records laws by not revealing them earlier.
A Voice of San Diego investigation found the physics teacher, who retired in June, was the subject of multiple student complaints lodged with the school principal over the years. Teachworth has declined multiple requests for an interview, but in an email denied any misconduct with students during his 38-year career.
Students reported Teachworth tickled them, squeezed their hips, and one reported he grabbed her butt twice, in succession. Two said he touched their breast. The women say it made them anxious to attend his classes and many of them felt they couldn’t transfer out. While Teachworth has retired, the question remains whether administrators could have done more to protect students who felt unsafe.
The alleged incidents occurred over many years, but it’s unclear exactly what district officials did with the many complaints it received — some of them stretching into Superintendent Cindy Marten’s term, which began midway through 2013. The paper trail is scant, according to San Diego Unified School District officials, and Teachworth remained in the classroom.
Two years ago, Voice of San Diego sent a California Public Records Act request to San Diego Unified that sought all complaints, investigative reports and communications related to allegations of harassment, sexual misbehavior or inappropriate touching by Teachworth. District officials responded saying no such records existed.
But emails from 2013 shared by 2003 La Jolla High graduate Loxie Gant revealed that was not true, and indicated a human resources investigation into Teachworth’s behavior had been under way “for the last several months,” the principal wrote at the time.
Now, more emails from 2013 shared anonymously by a school parent indicate school police and investigators were brought in to interview students for that investigation.
Both the parent and student name were removed from the emails. Voice of San Diego was not able to identify the sender, but San Diego Unified officials confirmed two emails are authentic, and the district “has no reason to believe (the third email) is not legitimate,” said district spokeswoman Maureen Magee.
Former La Jolla High principal Dana Shelburne confirmed he received one of the emails, but declined to comment further.
In that email, the student’s parent expressed concern Teachworth was retaliating against their daughter.
“There was a comment made by Mr. Teachworth to (my daughter) yesterday that may or may not be related to retaliation should he have become aware of her role in prompting the investigation. I reach out to you today because I felt it appropriate to put it on ‘the radar screen’ in case it is,” the parent wrote Shelburne and counselor Beth Behnke on March 19, 2013. The parent said Teachworth refused to let their daughter make up five previously unscheduled quizzes she would miss over five days she was away visiting colleges on the East Coast.
About six months later, the parent wrote the new interim La Jolla High School principal, Pat Crowder, expressing concern Teachworth was on the principal selection panel, following Shelburne’s departure.
“It is very unlikely you are aware, but last semester Mr. Teachworth was under investigation by the District Police for inappropriate behavior with students … I am aware because my daughter was involved,” the parent wrote Crowder on Sept. 23, 2013. “Over the period of several months (January- June) there were multiple interviews with students, District Police and Investigators regarding Mr. Teachworth’s behavior. It was not the first time complaints were made.”
Crowder replied the next day: “I will make inquiries about it to determine the outcome … I would like to know how your daughter was involved and what she knew.”
Neither Crowder nor Behnke have responded to inquiries asking about the emails.
Teachworth previously denied ever retaliating against his students. He declined to address the 2013 parent emails, writing in an email, “I have nothing further to add to the previous statement you were emailed.”
As for why the emails were not produced by San Diego Unified in response to past public records requests, Magee, the spokeswoman, said, “Original search terms used to respond to inquiries about Mr. Teachworth produced some 600 pages of documents. Because the three emails you shared did not contain the search terms, they were not produced in response to your inquiry.”
The district provided the list of terms used in the search. Though the terms used were far narrower than the request sought, district officials insisted they complied with public records laws.