Journalism won’t die if you donate. Support Voice of San Diego today!
The case of a Southwestern College educator who resigned with a non-disclosure agreement after committing sex acts with students in his office is not all that uncommon. Neither is the fact that he went on to work at San Diego City College.
A nearly two-year-long Voice of San Diego investigation into sexual misconduct by public school employees countywide has found that pattern repeatedly. Employees found responsible for sexual misconduct don’t always face termination, and instead sometimes leave with hush deals that protect their reputation and enable them to continue working in education.
Here’s a rundown of the cases VOSD has reported so far:
John Tolli, professor at Southwestern College in Chula Vista
An investigation found Tolli had sex with at least two students in his office and that he used his position to manipulate a former student into having sex, engaged in intimidation by directing her to remain silent about the affair, engaged in and photographed sex acts on district property and used a district computer to view and send pornography.
Tolli resigned with a non-disclosure agreement and now works as an instructional lab tech at San Diego City College, although the college recently put Tolli on paid leave following VOSD’s report. Tolli disputed some of Southwestern’s findings.
Anthony Atienza, show choir teacher at Chula Vista High School in Chula Vista
Female students complained Atienza harassed and groped them repeatedly. An investigation concluded: “Mr. Atienza’s severe and pervasive conduct created a hostile and intimidating environment for the three complainants, and it is reasonable to assume that other current and former students have felt the same way.”
Other alumni told VOSD his behavior with students crossed the line for years. Sweetwater officials agreed in a 2017 resignation deal with Atienza to not disclose the investigation or complaints with future employers. Atienza went on to teach classes at Lakeside Middle School, as well as the nonprofits Christian Youth Theater and Junior Theater. More recently, Atienza helped with a production by the Theater for Young Professionals and he directs a youth singing group called California Singin’. Atienza denied various misconduct claims and said his behavior with students has always been appropriate.
James Himmelsbach, Carmel Creek Elementary teacher in Solana Beach
District officials found Himmelsbach sexually harassed multiple female employees through intimidation, and unwanted physical and verbal advances. In Himmelsbach’s 2013 resignation agreement, Solana Beach School District agreed to not contest state unemployment claims and to tell future employers he retired. His teaching credential was eventually revoked, but not before Himmelsbach worked as a substitute teacher in the Del Mar Union Elementary School District. He denied most of his co-workers’ claims in the district’s investigation.
Scott Brady, Oceanside Unified special education teacher
Brady was accused of using excessive force to restrain one student and forcing a banana into the mouth of another. District officials concluded that Brady “behaved inappropriately with a student” and was moving to fire Brady after investigating reports he sexually harassed fellow employees both verbally and physically.
In a 2011 resignation deal, Oceanside Unified agreed to not disclose Brady’s misconduct to future employers. Brady was able to secure work as a full-time special education teacher in the San Diego Unified School District, as a substitute for the San Diego County Office of Education and as a professor at National University. Brady’s teaching credential was revoked in late 2013, but he recently taught at a private elementary school in Clairemont until VOSD revealed the Oceanside Unified incidents in December 2018. Both Brady and the Coastal Christian Academy’s superintendent, who defended Brady’s hire, abruptly resigned after the VOSD report. Brady declined VOSD’s interview request last year.
Others, like former Junipero Serra High principal Vincent Mays, may join the cohort. San Diego Unified officials concluded in 2015 Mays engaged in quid-pro-quo sexual harassment, created a hostile work environment and faked his diploma. It gave him a central office job, then paid him not to work for 17 months and agreed not to tell future employers about his conduct. His teaching credential is still valid and free of any public disciplinary record, according to the state credentialing website.
Then there are cases where public school employees found responsible for misconduct are not fired, nor forced to resign and remain employed. VOSD has found those cases are also plentiful.
Read more from our school sexual misconduct investigation here.