The Morning Report
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During a Wednesday afternoon recess in November 2016, a student at Crown Point Junior Music Academy asked her friend if she could keep a secret.
When the friend agreed, the girl told her that a fourth grade teacher, Lou Grande, 62 at the time, had kissed and licked her neck, rubbed her bottom and held her close while they were alone in a classroom together, and had told her not to tell anyone. The next day, the girl and a friend went to the principal’s office together to tell school staff about what happened.
That same day, the principal at Crown Point Junior Music Academy asked Grande to come into her office. When the principal told him about the student’s report, Grande didn’t deny the claims but hung his head and said he’d been having medical issues that had left him depressed and robbed him of his vitality, according to a memo of the discussion written by the district’s Human Resources Officer. San Diego Unified released records of the incident in response to a public records request from Voice of San Diego. (Grande later denied the allegations in a letter to the district).
Grande told the principal that his career was over, that he would never see her again and to tell the other teachers goodbye, according to the memo.
Though the memo indicates Grande understood he had committed a serious violation, he also made a request: He’d already been planning to retire at the end of the school year – could he use sick leave to ride out the year, then retire as planned?
San Diego Unified placed Grande on paid leave while it conducted an investigation. It reported the incident to police and to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.
In the end, the district did not move to fire Grande but agreed to his initial request. Records show that the district signed an agreement with Grande allowing him to use sick leave until the end of the school year, then retire in June 2017. The deal included an agreement that the district would keep quiet about the incident.
Grande did not respond to multiple attempts to reach him from Voice of San Diego.
Though a state law passed in 2014 made it easier for school districts to dismiss teachers and other school staff for egregious misconduct, many still choose to strike agreements allowing problem employees to resign or retire in order to avoid lengthy, costly legal fights.
In allowing Grande to retire, the district insulated itself from a potential legal battle over his employment – but it also ensured a serious allegation of abuse against a young child stayed hidden from potential future employers and the public.
Though the principal noted in her memo on her initial confrontation with Grande that he did not deny the incident, Grande later wrote to the San Diego Unified Human Resources Department that the student in question had been confused about a harmless interaction.
He wrote that it was common for students to tackle him with hugs each day out in the playground, where he trained students in a running club; he recalled a time when a young boy tackled him with a hug and did not let go; he had to pry the boy off, he wrote.
Grande wrote that students often approached him in the hallways, or in the classroom before, after or during school as a way to say, “thank you,” “hello” or “I appreciate you.”
He said that was the case with the girl who reported he molested her while they were alone in a classroom.
“A hug with malicious intent would be wrong. It would be unethical, something that I would never think of. I have carefully pored [sic] my heart out to the school and to my students for 22 years, and I would not throw it all down the drain with an improper hug,” Grande wrote.
He said the student “approached me and gave me a quick hug after briefly helping in this class. A thank you hug with absolutely no malicious intent, something she sadly misunderstood.”
The girl alleged that in addition to the improper hug, Grande kissed and licked her neck and grabbed her bottom, according to district records. Grande did not address the alleged kissing, licking or groping in the letter.
The district’s agreement with Grande includes a clause stating the terms of his departure should remain confidential to the greatest extent possible under the law, with the exception of the California Public Records Act or future legal proceedings.
Maureen Magee, a spokeswoman from San Diego Unified, said in an email that requiring Grande to resign was the most efficient way to terminate his career as an educator.
Magee said the district reported the student’s allegations to the state teacher credentialing agency in February 2017 in an effort to trigger an investigation at the state level. School district administrators are required to report allegations to that agency when an educator’s employment status changes due to misconduct.
The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing did not take action against Grande’s teaching credential; his credential expired in February of this year.
School administrators also reported the abuse to the San Diego Unified School District Police Department and Child Welfare Services, as required by law. San Diego Unified’s police force referred the incident to the San Diego Police Department for further investigation and no charges against him were ever filed, an SDPD spokesman told VOSD.
“In short, the district took every legally viable option to respond vigorously to this incident,” Magee wrote in an email.
Terri Miller, president of the group Stop Educator Abuse to End Exploitation, said the deal allowing Grande to retire represents a failure on the district’s part.
Miller said agreements that ensure silence for teachers and staff accused of sexual misconduct can open the door to those employees to move to other schools or jobs in education.
Indeed, if Grande had decided to pursue a teaching job in another district or at a private school, San Diego Unified officials would have been obligated under the agreement not to mention the abuse allegation. Without a criminal prosecution or any action taken on his teaching credential, it would have been impossible for potential employers to know about the incident.
“There’s so many failures here, and it all results in deliberate child endangerment,” Miller said. “It was a choice to not fire him and it was a choice to not get his license revoked before his license expired.”