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San Diego Unified School District officials say just 10 employees were disciplined or found responsible for sexual misconduct over a 10-year period that ended in late 2017.
But during much of that same period, the district reported 45 teachers to a statewide agency that handles educator misconduct. Though it’s not clear how many of those cases were sexual in nature, the size of the discrepancy, as well as previous failures to provide misconduct records by the district – and the sheer size of the district’s workforce – calls into question the district’s claim that it has provided all possible records responsive to the request.
In November 2017, Voice of San Diego asked all 43 San Diego County public school districts for 10 years’ worth of employee sexual misconduct complaints, investigation and discipline records.
California courts have upheld the public’s right to such records when the claims are well-founded or the employee is disciplined, even if only privately. The goal was to see how districts responded to such complaints and assess the breadth of the problem in the region’s public schools.
Some districts provided the records swiftly, while others were less forthcoming. We’ve had to go to court to shake public records out of districts like La Mesa Spring-Valley and Coronado, and the Coronado dispute is still underway.
San Diego Unified delayed producing any records for more than a year, but eventually released 10 cases, one pertaining to a highly publicized case of student sexual abuse by Crawford High teacher Toni Sutton. Another contained employee harassment by principal Vincent Mays, while another documented complaints against Crown Point Junior Music Academy teacher Lou Grande, who was allowed to quietly retire after reportedly groping and kissing an elementary school student.
For one other case, the district produced only a 2012 separation agreement with a teacher, who was reported to the state Commission on Teacher Credentialing for alleged misconduct. When asked where the remaining documents on that teacher were, San Diego Unified spokeswoman Maureen Magee wrote, “No other documents were located.”
For another case, the district initially did not disclose the name of a campus security assistant at Scripps Ranch High who received a warning in 2015 for making a sexual joke to a teacher, and only provided the employee’s name when pressed by VOSD’s attorney.
Data obtained by Voice of San Diego last year shows San Diego Unified reported 45 teachers to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing for misconduct of various kinds over a 10-year period, from fiscal years 2009 through 2018.
State law requires school district superintendents to report to the commission a change in a teacher’s employment status due to misconduct allegations.
Exactly how many of the 45 San Diego Unified teacher misconduct cases were sexual in nature is unknown. Neither the district nor the commission could provide that level of detail, officials for each agency said.
But the discrepancy – 10 cases versus 45 over nearly the same 10-year period – still raises concern district officials are withholding documents the public is legally entitled to.
No statewide body exists to investigate or track misconduct by non-teaching employees who do not hold a credential. As a result, the volume of cases involving those employees are known only to individual districts or law enforcement, if the cases are ever referred there.
San Diego Unified is the largest school district in the county and employs 13,000 to 14,000 people annually, including roughly 6,450 teachers.
Much smaller districts produced a much higher proportion of cases. The San Dieguito Union High School District employs just 555 teachers and produced six cases to VOSD. The Grossmont Union High School District employs about 1,000 teachers and produced 26 cases. Meanwhile, the Escondido Union High School District, which employs 465 teachers, and the South Bay Union School District, which employs about 360 teachers, produced three cases each.
“The district provided all documents responsive to your request that were located in its search,” Magee, the San Diego Unified spokeswoman, wrote in an email. Magee did not answer questions on how the district conducted its search, but maintained, “The district conducted a reasonable search for documents that were responsive to your request.”
If public records pertaining to sexual misconduct by employees were left out, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Earlier this year, district officials said they discovered sexual misconduct documents involving a former La Jolla High School physics teacher long known for touching female students – after insisting multiple times that it had no such documents. It turned out district officials substantiated a 2003 complaint alleging Martin Teachworth stuck his hand down a student’s pants, noting the incident rose “to level of criminal prosecution.” The district also fielded several other complaints over the years before Teachworth retired in 2017, but took no disciplinary action and told VOSD that various complaint records on Teachworth didn’t exist.