La Jolla High School / Photo by Sam Hodgson

Newly obtained documents reveal that San Diego Unified investigated and confirmed allegations of groping by a teacher at La Jolla High School but allowed him to continue teaching for another decade, while more complaints built up. The district claimed to Voice of San Diego multiple times over a four-year period that it had no documents regarding complaints against the teacher, but now says it discovered them in a storage room.

Even when confronted with evidence in 2017 that it had withheld emails detailing complaints against the teacher, Martin Teachworth, the district continued to insist it had no records at all.

Now, four years after Voice of San Diego originally sought documents that would shed light on the students’ complaints and how the district handled them, San Diego Unified officials have provided records showing extensive documentation existed all along and that the district did not provide it, though it was legally required to under the California Public Records Act.

The documents reveal a wide chasm between the story the district stuck to for years, and the truth: Not only did it have documents in its possession, those documents show that although district officials considered Teachworth’s actions criminal in at least one instance and believed he engaged in a pattern of troubling behavior, they responded to most incidents by giving him a warning – or by doing nothing at all.

In 2003, after substantiating a complaint that Teachworth stuck his hand down a girl’s pants, district officials took no action against him. In the 2012-2013 school year, following several complaints that prompted district officials to call in school police, recommend calling Child Protective Services and to involve district lawyers, officials once again took no action against him.

Teachworth has since retired but is now being investigated by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

San Diego Unified did not report any of the misconduct complaints against Teachworth to the state agency. It wasn’t until Loxie Gant and Maura Kanter, two of his former students, reported sexual harassment complaints directly to the state last year that the agency was able to review the allegations against Teachworth.

It was during the process of responding to that agency’s inquiries, which included a subpoena, that the district claims it discovered documents that it never provided in response to VOSD’s requests.

“Records were discovered following the consolidation of office and storage space,” San Diego Unified spokeswoman Maureen Magee wrote in an email.

Gant and Kanter were among the four women who told Voice of San Diego in 2017 that Teachworth touched them inappropriately in the classroom on a regular basis, including grazing their chest, tickling their stomach and squeezing their hips, thighs and butt. After they came forward, more women also said Teachworth touched them while they were students in his classroom.

‘The Investigation Findings Showed the Case to Be Criminal’

Loxie Gant is one of at least four women who have said physics teacher Martin Teachworth harassed them when they were students at La Jolla High School. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

In 2017, Gant told Voice of San Diego that during the 2002-2003 school year, as she walked to the front of the classroom, Teachworth “grabbed my butt, like kind of two times. It was sort of a solid hand and a grab, and it was a one, two to my bottom.”

Gant reported the incident to then-principal Dana Shelburne that day, and recounted it again to an investigator several days later.

Yet the district said multiple times it had no record of such reports.

In 2015, after receiving a tip about Teachworth’s behavior, Voice of San Diego submitted a public records request to San Diego Unified seeking all complaints, reports, claims or other records relating to allegations against Teachworth.

District officials said at that time that no responsive documents existed.

Then, in 2017, Gant and others provided VOSD emails that showed the district investigated Teachworth in 2013. When confronted with them, district officials responded that “The district did not find any record of documented evidence that this individual engaged in inappropriate behavior.”

The newly released documents show that’s false.

While district officials were investigating complaints against Teachworth in 2012 and 2013, human resource officer James Jimenez reviewed school police records that showed in early 2003, two female students reported that Teachworth had put his hand down the back of a student’s pants while she was bending over a desk. Jimenez’s notes show that school police at the time determined that the incident rose “to level of criminal prosecution,” and even noted the specific section of the Penal Code the behavior violated, 647.6(a), annoying or molesting a child under 18.

A separate document in the file also notes the 2003 incident in which police substantiated the allegation Teachworth put his hands down a student’s pants, and says, “The investigation findings showed the case to be criminal in nature.”

On top of that incident, Shelburne also reported to school police in February 2003 that a female student had alleged Teachworth “touched her on her posterior,” according to a memo from Shelburne to the district’s head of human resources. Though the name of the student is redacted, Gant told Voice of San Diego the timing and details of that incident align with her experience.

Shelburne also notes in the memo that he spoke to a district lawyer five days later “to discuss the pattern of allegations” against Teachworth.

Steve Walker, a spokesman for the San Diego district attorney’s office, said he could not find any records indicating that San Diego Unified’s police agency ever forwarded a case involving Teachworth to the DA’s office for review.

Despite substantiating complaints against him and district officials’ belief that Teachworth’s behavior might have violated the law, the records show that “no known [administrative] action took place.”

Teachworth stayed in the classroom.

A Flood of Complaints, But No Action

District officials unearthed and recirculated details of the 2003 complaints against Teachworth as they investigated new complaints about his behavior 10 years later, in the 2012-2013 school year.

Shelburne met with two mothers in July 2012 who laid out concerns about their daughters’ experiences in his class, including unwanted touching. They said girls were uncomfortable in his class, and that they feared retaliation in the form of reduced grades if they questioned his behavior.

Shelburne asked the women if they wanted to involve school police, and they said no, according to his notes to a San Diego Unified administrator.

In December 2012, Shelburne emailed a district human resource officer, asking to speak with her “regarding a personnel concern that may constitute inappropriate teacher-to-student behavior.”

The following month, Shelburne met with a student who said Teachworth had touched and grabbed her on numerous occasions, according to a memo Shelburne later wrote to district administrators. She said that while Teachworth filmed a class experiment, he diverted the camera multiple times to a group of girls in the class. She provided Shelburne with the names of other students who might have more information. She worried that switching classes would negatively impact her college applications, since Teachworth was the only AP physics teacher at the school.

Shelburne met with seven other girls who all described being touched or otherwise made to feel uncomfortable by Teachworth, according to the memo.

Shelburne called school police, according to a summary of actions taken in the investigation. A district administrator counseled Shelburne to call Child Protective Services. The files do not indicate whether that call was placed.

Five months later, just before the end of the school year, a student reported to Shelburne that Teachworth had grabbed her by the hips. He asked the student if she wanted to be removed from the classroom given that there were only 10 more school days left in the year, and she said she did not, according to the memo.

Shelburne told district officials he suggested that if the student needed to work in Teachworth’s classroom during lunch or after school, he could arrange to have an adult “accidentally” wander by to ensure she was safe.

A summary of the district’s investigation notes that school police closed the case “because the allegation was not sexual in nature.”

Shelburne told district officials he felt he couldn’t take any action against Teachworth because the girls who complained about him feared he’d retaliate against them and therefore wished to remain anonymous.

“This is a pattern of behavior which I have discussed with Mr. Teachworth previously, but always within the confines of parents not wanting to risk repercussions for their students, so allegations remained necessarily generalized,” Shelburne wrote in an email summary of his investigation to district officials. “All the young ladies mentioned in the attached summary have graduated, so grade alteration or retaliation are moot. I am hoping HR can use this information to good effect.”

At the end of July 2013, Shelburne was abruptly reassigned to a central office role.

The principal who replaced him at La Jolla High, Chuck Podhorsky, confirmed to district administrators “he will monitor the situation and since employee was already spoken to, he will not move forward on discipline at this time,” according to a summary of the district’s investigation.

Teachworth stayed in the classroom.

2016 and Beyond

Despite racking up a record of complaints over more than a decade, Teachworth was removed from the classroom only once – in 2016, following an anonymous complaint sent to the district using an online form.

The student claimed Teachworth “gives a girl (me) neck rubs. I feel intimidated by him because i have seem (sic) him do this to others and if they try to back away, he gets upset. he has done this more than tem (sic) times to me,” as VOSD reported in 2017.

Teachworth was put on paid administrative leave for two weeks while an investigation was done. That probe stalled when the IP address of the computer from which the complaint was sent couldn’t be tracked. Without a victim, officials determined there was nothing more they could do.

Teachworth returned to the class.

He retired from La Jolla High in 2017.

In 2018, Gant and Kanter reported their experiences with Teachworth to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

A letter from the commission addressed to Teachworth last month says if the committee finds the allegations to be true, the information may be sufficient to suspend, revoke or deny his teaching credential.

If his credential is revoked, Teachworth will not be allowed to teach in a public California school district again.

Dorn Bishop, Teachworth’s attorney, called the allegations reported to the commission “outrageous.”

“One alleged classroom incident is based on a preposterous and uncorroborated claim that was thoroughly investigated and rejected 17 years ago,” he wrote in an email. “The other alleged classroom incidents were never brought to Mr. Teachworth’s attention, and apparently were never reported to school officials when they supposedly occurred almost a decade ago. Even though Mr. Teachworth retired from teaching in 2017, he has chosen to defend himself in the credentialing proceeding against these unfounded attacks.”

Bishop said Teachworth expects a decision in his favor.

Kayla Jimenez contributed to this report.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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1 Comment

  1. Parents and students never pressed charges . Now they want millions form the taxpayers and district

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