Skip to main content

San Diego Unified School District Misconduct Records

Cover image for podcast episode

San Diego Unified High School District's misconduct records raise questions. A controversial vaccination bill heads to Gov. Newsom's desk. Will the weight of injuries to NFL players change the course of the game.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:01 Surprisingly few sexual misconduct cases are reported by San Diego Unified School district. A look inside the numbers. I'll build a tightened restrictions on exemptions for vaccinating kids. Causes Emotional clashes in Sacramento and severe injuries are sidelining NFL players in their prime. What it means is the season begins for America's most watched sport. I'm mark Sauer. The KPBS round table starts now.

Speaker 2: 00:33 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:37 welcome to our discussion to the weak stop stories. I'm mark Sauer and joining me at the KPBS round table today, San Diego sports journalists, Jay Paris, reporter Ashley and McGlone, a voice of San Diego and reporter will Huntsburg also a voice of San Diego. Well, stories of widespread sexual abuse by priests, scout leaders, doctors, coaches, teachers, and other adults working with kids have been sadly prevalent in recent years. That's why reporting of relatively scarce sexual misconduct incidents by San Diego Unified School district personnel as being called into question. And Ashley, let's start there with the reporting. How many sexual misconduct cases been reported by San Diego unified in the past decade or so?

Speaker 3: 01:18 So San Diego unified is telling us and produce just 10 cases showing discipline of, uh, employees of all kinds over the 10 year period for sexual misconduct. That ended in roughly at the end of 2017.

Speaker 1: 01:29 Okay. And that number does seem awfully low. I mean, how many employees are we talking overall with this school district? And they over as you say, a 10 year period,

Speaker 3: 01:37 right? Roughly 13,000 to 14,000 every year. And more than 6,000 of those are teachers.

Speaker 1: 01:42 Okay. And I guess it's a hard to gauge, there's no standard for this, but we'll get into it and a little bit on some of the numbers with the other districts and all, but, um, are there actually a, there were many more teachers though that San Diego unified reported to a different state agency. Right,

Speaker 3: 01:55 right. Some data that we got from the California Commission on teacher credentialing shows us indigo unified reported 45 educators over roughly the same 10 year period to the state for educator misconduct. Um, and so we don't know if all those cases were sexual in nature, but 45 cases, uh, over again the 10 year period. Plus that doesn't include any of the non-teaching employees and there's no state agency that tracks those cases or investigates them at all.

Speaker 1: 02:19 And what does the district say about the, the difference in those numbers and then the numbers overall?

Speaker 3: 02:24 Um, not much. I've asked them about, you know, how did you guys conduct the search? Because we filed a records request back in November, 2017 with all school districts in the county. Yeah.

Speaker 1: 02:32 I'm going to ask that in a second. But anyway, and what did, what did they say?

Speaker 3: 02:35 Just that they conducted a reasonable search. They did not answer questions about how their search was conducted on, but that they produced everything that they could find. Okay.

Speaker 1: 02:42 And then, uh, yeah, tell us about it. Cause Voice, I went about this and kind of a methodical way and tell us about the, what you sought to find out in the request you made around the [inaudible].

Speaker 3: 02:51 Yeah. November, 2017 we filed the same records request with every school district in the county asking for cases of sexual misconduct, complaints, discipline, investigation, records against employees and officials and contractors. California courts have upheld the public's right to those documents when the complaints are well-founded or if the employee is disciplined at all, even privately. Um, and we wanted to see kind of what is the breadth of the problem in the regions public schools and also see how school districts respond to those sorts of complaints. Again, we only get cases, uh, the public only has the right to see those cases where they are determined to be well-founded. Um, and so again, they're, they're saying they've got 10

Speaker 1: 03:25 and you've got quite a range of responses from the various districts. Right?

Speaker 3: 03:28 Right. So San Diego Union high school district employees, just like 550 teachers, they gave us six different cases over the same timeframe. Grossmont employs about a thousand teachers. Again, still a fraction of what San Diego unified does. They give us 26 cases.

Speaker 1: 03:42 Yeah. So that's why these numbers are kind of raising some eyebrows here. Um, and the reporting were San Diego unified. They weren't all that forthcoming were they,

Speaker 3: 03:50 they took more than a year to give us anything. And that's why we're kind of talking about this now. Even though the request was filed back in 2017, um, they took a while. They get did give us 10 cases. Um, again, one was already a highly publicized sexual abuse case with a conviction. Um, another showed a principal harassing employees. Uh, but yeah, they, they're standing by their number 10.

Speaker 1: 04:09 And you have reported specifically on some of those confirmed cases, have you known? Yeah. Will has as well at one. Yep.

Speaker 3: 04:15 Principals. Um, and if there was a teacher, um, they found, had groped and kissed an elementary school student, he was allowed to quietly retire, which is often the case in some of these things. They reach an agreement rather than terminating. Just leave. Sometimes they pay them to leave, um, and they go quietly and no one's the wiser unless they get ahold of these documents or they're referred to a law enforcement agency

Speaker 1: 04:32 and we'll, okay. What about in the schools themselves? Where do you, what's the reaction and what parents have to say and maybe staff members when these cases come to light?

Speaker 4: 04:42 Yeah, I mean, obviously these cases are really terrifying and I think, um, when parents learn, uh, about what's going on there, they're really worried. The phrase into field is like passing the trash. Right? So what will happen with these educators a lot of times is, uh, instead of dealing with the problem, the school will move the person on. Maybe they'll move them to a different school. Maybe in some cases they'll even give them a promotion where they're not working with kids at because they've decided that's the best they can do legally.

Speaker 1: 05:13 Would they warn the next school, uh, that, that this has happened and this person's coming?

Speaker 3: 05:17 The settlements often, uh, the district agrees in the settlement or the separation agreement to not report or share that information. They make their mandated reports to the California Commission on teacher credentialing and leave it at that and kind of say, any, any future employers that ask us, we'll just give them your employment dates and say, again, they moved on or they retired.

Speaker 1: 05:35 And of course you've got a, uh, a teacher's Union, um, [inaudible] very, you know, strong organizing group there that's advocating for teachers. Does that complicate the situation in reporting and the handling of these cases?

Speaker 3: 05:46 So it is interesting because San Diego unified like other schools, the labor union contracts say that, uh, complaints, um, will be handled the lowest possible level. And so there has been a discrepancy in the past where seems that complaints over the years by students against, for instance, at La Jolla high school physics teacher maybe didn't leave the campus, maybe just stayed in the principals desk drawer. Um, although then there was a case where the district said, hey, we don't have any complaints for this teacher who kept his job for years and years, even though he was known for touching students. But recently they discovered a box of documents showing that they had substantiated some pretty serious groping allegations years and years before he ever retired. Um, but they said, you know, kind of, whoops, we just discovered this. And, um, I asked them have they made any changes to the way they conduct their searches to respond to these sorts of requests? Um, in light of that, and again, they just say they made a reasonable search this time around.

Speaker 1: 06:34 Basically they found it, found it in a closet or something. Right. I think they, they told us like, oh well we told you we didn't have any records and whoops, turns out there was this room with these extra records where we didn't look and there were some there

Speaker 3: 06:46 which they found while responding to a subpoena from the California Commission on teacher credentialing who had previously not heard about these complaints. Okay. Just curious,

Speaker 1: 06:54 is is the culture changing, I mean, [inaudible] going forward looking ahead or, or since this light's been, you know, the spotlight on it?

Speaker 3: 07:00 I'd like to think so. I mean I again, we, you, there is a difference that one of my colleagues, Kayla, has been reporting on like school districts do handle these complaints differently. Some have the principal investigate, some do refer immediately to law enforcement, some interpret grooming behaviors differently as something they need to investigate. Or just kind of give a warning. Um, but I think more awareness around this and also students knowing what they can and cannot tolerate, um, is important to, well, uh,

Speaker 1: 07:25 what about the state and the enforcement itself? Um, the, if the reporting is this different among districts in just one county in California, isn't the state coming back and saying, Hey, wait a second here. What's [inaudible]

Speaker 3: 07:35 know they, they are dealing with the backlog of cases themselves. And again, even this case with this La Jolla teacher, students have made complaints recently because the district never reported him, um, over the years and he's been appealing. There's a potential that he's going to appeal to the Attorney General's office. The public, other than getting documents like we've done, um, is not made aware of this on like their public website on the credential. So they're dealing with a backlog of cases. They're kind of, they say doing their best to kind of handle this, but it is really often left to the local districts to do the right thing, to follow the law, but also be proactive with their trainings and teaching people how to, you know, how they shouldn't, shouldn't behave with, um, students and also other employees who need to be on lookers and report things that maybe seem inappropriate between employees and students. Right.

Speaker 1: 08:17 Short time left on this segment, uh, what is the public generally and entitled to know about these cases? Yeah, so again, the California Corner, obviously a privacy to protect too. And when you're doing an investigation and discuss some complaints have been raised, doesn't mean it's founded,

Speaker 3: 08:31 correct. Yeah. So the public, uh, the employees have the right to privacy, but the public also has the right to know how the government operates. And so in cases where complaints are investigated and determined to be well-founded or that employee is disciplined because they found some reason that they needed some discipline or a reprimand or a warning, the public is entitled to see that, that various court cases have gone up. And the judges have said, yes, the public gets to see that. Now if a complaint is made, the district says this is bogus.

Speaker 4: 08:56 Uh, we don't get to see that and that's okay. We're not fighting for those sort of [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 09:00 Kind of like a police investigation doesn't result in the rest or charges. And then that's that. Okay, well, we'll look for more reporting on that. It's fascinating story. Well, a few issues have become as fraught with controversy in recent years as vaccinating children against disease. A fraudulent study of 12 children by a now discredited researcher was published in a respectable, respectable, I should say, medical journal 20 years ago at link the vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella to autism. That link has been thoroughly debunked. Yet the anti-vaxxer movements are called persist of moment, whose impact prompted California's Assembly this week to approve a hotly debated bill on this topic. And we'll start with this new law. What does it call for?

Speaker 4: 09:42 Yeah. So this law, this new bill has had quite the journey. Um, it started by saying that we would have public health officials in California who would approve, um, vaccine exemptions. Um, there, there are a couple of other states that do this, the, the progressive beacons of West Virginia and Alabama, I think. Um, so, but that people were really wary of that bill. The governor was really wary of that bill. So now what we're looking at is a bill where if a school has less than a 95% vaccination rate, public health officials can investigate what's going on at that school. Or if one doctor in particular has issued a certain number of medical exemptions, public health officials can look into that too.

Speaker 1: 10:28 Okay. And that 95% rate that that's, that's a key threshold, right?

Speaker 4: 10:32 It is, yeah. It's like community immunity or a little of a tongue twister or herd immunity. Basically, if 95% above of the population is vaccinated, outbreaks generally just do not happen. And the places where we have seen outbreaks happen in, in the past few years, in past few months in this country are places where there are pockets of more people who are not vaccinated. So we're below that herd immunity

Speaker 1: 10:57 falls below that. Now Governor Gavin Newsome should point out a father for himself. He's got some reservations on this legislation, what's his role, but been in this debate and he's still not satisfied with this bill. Right? Even, even though it's passed the assembly.

Speaker 4: 11:09 Yeah. Yeah, that's right. He, he's been a little skeptical of it all along. I think. Um, it's been dialed back because of that. And um, he hasn't said he would veto it, but he has said he's looking to make some technical modifications to it. So I think, um, we should definitely be aware that technical modifications could mean that the, the teeth get taken out of the bill further.

Speaker 1: 11:31 Wow. So it's still up in the air. Even though we've had the action this week in the news, what is he had passed. But that's a little misleading because we got to wait and see with the gun. We don't know what's really going to happen. Now. A principal coauthor of the build Democratic Assembly woman, Laura, Anna Gonzales of San Diego, she blames quite a handful of unscrupulous physicians profiting from putting children at risk and making schools less, uh, less safe I should say. And you had written about, I'm a doctor here who was quite a controversial, we talked about on the show before and remind us of that story.

Speaker 4: 12:02 Yeah, yeah. We talked about, I'm Dr Tarzan Fleet, um, the south park doctor, she's known on her website and she had written, um, one third, nearly one third of all the medical exemptions for San Diego unified. So literally in the hundreds. Um, so, you know, she is somebody who would be potentially impacted by this bill. Um, her and other physicians who are known as vacs friendly in the community, I think she would dispute that, but they write exemptions sometimes for reasons that other medical professionals completely disagree with. You know, um, on the records that we got, it showed that she was writing exemptions for family history of auto immune disease, um, family history of allergy. And you know, in some cases, if a person has an auto immune disease, doctors recognize that as a reason not to get an, uh, a vaccine, legitimate exemption, a legitimate exemption. But family history is a completely untested theory. Other doctors in the field say

Speaker 1: 13:02 now, uh, taking that example of that San Diego doctor, if this bill were to come into law and to be, uh, enacted, how would it restrict a doctor like that?

Speaker 4: 13:13 Well, um, what it appears it would do right now is it would allow, um, public health officials to investigate her. So presumably it would allow them to access some records that they can't now access. I mean, that's a big problem with investigating doctors now. Only one person, Dr Bob Sears, I think he practices in Orange County has been sanctioned in California for his reasons for writing a medical exemption. I mean, what proponents of the bill say is that basically the people who want these exemptions for, for not legitimate reasons are kind of in collusion with the doctor. And there's no way they're going to agree to give up their medical records. So this would give investigators more leeway to get at that kind of stuff. Okay. What do those actions look like? Well, what does that mean? Do they have like a moratorium or they say you can no longer write exemptions for family history. What would that I think a, it would be, yeah, it would be some kind of probationary status of, of their license. Um, or in the most extreme cases, you know, uh, get your license taken away for a certain amount of time or revoked permanently.

Speaker 1: 14:16 Okay. And what's the main argument for those who are against vaccinations a of their kids? Why do they want to make it easier to get exemptions? That's the main thrust of that.

Speaker 4: 14:26 Well, you know, they say that vaccines are more risky than the rest of us realize or want to admit. Um, and you know, vaccines do carry risks, but they're extremely small, small risks and their benefits are extremely big. And the medical community is, is largely in agreement on, on how the outweigh any tiny risks that might be associated with them. I think vaccines, skeptical people seem to keep insisting despite many, many studies that have shown otherwise, that they're actually very risky and more risky than, than people are letting on.

Speaker 1: 15:06 And of course there has been some national figures, uh, who have pushed this, some celebrities and a Robert F. Kennedy Jr I believe.

Speaker 4: 15:14 Yeah. Rob Schneider from the Adam Sandler movies. He got in a big feud with Loraina Gonzalez about it. They've, they've had some shouting matches. I've read. It's been intense.

Speaker 1: 15:22 Yeah. And this got nasty. As I said at the outset in Sacramento, this whole discussion got pretty angry. There's some demonstrations, there's some, some loud things, some crosswords.

Speaker 4: 15:32 I think somebody even pushed a senator Richard Pan, the guy who helped introduce to that legislation.

Speaker 1: 15:38 Yeah. Now getting back to that 95% threshold that that is, that is critical. Do we know, does the public know which schools are below that and which places, I mean, how do parents react if they say, hey, we're at 91% here. What's going on? I don't want my kid in that school.

Speaker 4: 15:54 Absolutely. We do have that information available. Um, but currently there's no trigger to give those parents power, you know, and this, this would give society or the state or however you want to say it, more power in that case right now we can see where those schools are. There's I think 12 to 15 elementary schools in, um, San Diego unified or San Diego county where, where we're below the threshold. So yeah, the data's available

Speaker 1: 16:21 and we're seeing some cases breakout and measles and these sorts of things

Speaker 4: 16:24 all over the country. Obviously. I mean, one really horrifying case was in San Diego in 2008, some of the people who are really put at risk are children who are too young to get vaccinated. And there was somebody who came into a San Diego Hospital and had chosen not to get vaccinated, got the measles. There's also a 10 month old baby there. Um, who ha was not old enough to get the shot yet that, that baby got the measles from the other person. Really horrifying experience. They went from 18 to 12 pounds in like five days or something. So, uh, you know what, roughly one in a thousand people can die from the measles. So obviously, uh,

Speaker 1: 17:05 yeah, it's a serious disease. Well, well we're out of time on this, but we'll, we'll certainly see what happens in the state and how this goes forward and when it's an and at the timing on that. When are we gonna move on? Fans of the national football league were stunned when Star quarterback Andrew luck suddenly retired last month. The Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowler, the number one pick and NFL is 2012 draft called it a career at age 29. Here's his reason why

Speaker 5: 17:30 for the last four years or so, I've been in this cycle of injury, pain, Rehab and jewelry injury, pain Rehab, uh, and it's been unceasing, unrelenting, unrelenting, both in season, both on and off season. Uh, and I felt stuck in it and the only way I see out, uh, is, is to, to no longer play football.

Speaker 6: 17:56 And Jay, how unusual is it now to have a star NFL player in his prime give up millions? I mean, they're walking away from a lot of money and especially at the quarterback position, I'm here talking these days, they can play into their forties, like drew Brees and Tom Brady. And I think that was the one of the biggest takeaways that it was a quarterback. Now you've seen running backs do it, you know, uh, Barry Sanders did it yet. Detroit lions and even, uh, you might even remember Jim Brown back in 65, right, right in his prime. He 29 to to be an actor and a to Rael Davis, uh, locally here and Lynn Swann and gale sayers. I mean guys that a skilled position, guys that they get beat up. But the way the game is now, quarterbacks can play into their forties and he's probably leaving a couple of hundred million dollars on the table, which just shows you how much he was hurting.

Speaker 6: 18:40 Yeah, absolutely. No. As we said in the, in the open, most watch sport, the film people are more aware than ever how brutal the toll can be on players that, so talk about that tension between that and the NFL campaign to portray the sport is safer than ever. The fans don't care. The fans are betting on everything. The fans are going to the game, the fans have their fantasy league teams. And uh, there's such a disconnect that you're knowing this guy is going to blow out his knee. You're, no, this guy might have a dimension problems later in his life. You know, how dangerous this sport is. But it's entertainment and that's how they look at it. And they, uh, you know, the League, uh, tries to put on a good face, if you will. They're not been out [inaudible] in it. I mean, they're not doing this out of their, uh, out of the kindness of my heart moneymaking.

Speaker 6: 19:24 And then years later when the insurance companies come back and say, why didn't you protect these guys? Well, they go, look, we put these rules in where you can only hit him here. We put the rules in where you can't hit him in the head. We put these rules in so you had to have a contact. Exactly. So, uh, it's a $15 billion business and uh, people love football and it's only going up, it's only getting more popular. Now. Football fans in San Diego across the country of course, were shocked by the suicide of chargers, great junior sale in 2012 and the postmortem exams on, on a sale and other players showed the concussion syndrome. And of course there was a movie about that. The NFL famously fought that explain that settlement. There was a big battle. They finally have worked it out. Has that been beneficial for players or are they still battling it out?

Speaker 6: 20:09 It's a battle and there's been over $660 million in claims and they have paid out $500 million in benefits. But, but it seems like, uh, for the majority of the claims, 62% of them, over 3000 players, only 14% of those those players, men compensated. It seems like the, the dimension and the, you know, the after effects of plan, it's, it's fallen more into legalees than medical reasons. And a lot of these gentlemen, uh, I've got to know and writing books about former players, um, you know, they're passing on and uh, their, their condition isn't better and it's almost like they're slow walking and they're stalling and you know, the legal system, you know, the guys that are older and they're hurting now and they need that money now. And it's a shame that a, they can't fast track that a little quicker. Well, I wanted to ask you about that because you've written a book about the charges about the Los Angeles Rams.

Speaker 6: 21:04 You've covered football for decades, and you've known a lot of these guys. And you mentioned, just know the, the older players. Uh, but what happens when you're talking to players who are playing right now? Like, like Andrew Luck for example. I mean, you bring up with them, hey, you know, how tough is this? What are the injuries? Like, how do you do it day to day, season to season, get up and decide you're going to come back for training camp again? Yeah. I think it's those three hours people see in the week where, where these guys are gladiators and they're running out there and they're journaling and whatever else they may have of course in through their body. It's those other 165 hours. It's the guy getting up early to to stretch so he can go in and get a cup of coffee. It's the guy getting up early to find the tub.

Speaker 6: 21:42 You, you mentioned a junior, you know, great junior sale. He was such a guy that if the training room opened at six, he would get there at four to get his treatment. So the other guys didn't see them. You know, you never wanted, he never wanted to see somebody, him Olympian. He never wanted anyone to see him in the training room. And it's that badge of honor, that warrior mentality that, that unfortunately the guys look the other way when their body's barking at them now and their body's telling them this isn't right. But it's that lure. It's, it's, you know, they know what they're signing up for, but uh, they don't want to let down fans. They don't want to let down their family. They, they're trying to make a living. But it's a, it's a brutal game. And, and when you walk into a locker room right after a game, you almost feel like a first responder coming up on a car accident.

Speaker 6: 22:24 I mean, these guys are that beat other go through a car accident every week, every play really. Well, I mean, do you think now that we've seen this big retirement of a player in their prime, do you think we'll start to see more people do this? Is, there's more awareness about it. You know, there has been, uh, more guys doing it. I, there's more, there's more education about it now. And you know, used to be in the old days, if you got hit well you got your bell rung their son or you're seeing stars, that would almost laugh it off. And I think the players are more cognizant of, of the ramifications of what could happen on a big hit. That being said, if you say you're hurting, sometimes they find somebody else, you know, that's just the nature of the business. You know, NFL is not for long and they run through those players pretty quick.

Speaker 6: 23:07 Actually. I retirees being more vocal about it impacting the younger guys do you think? Oh, I think so. And you know, Mike Ditka and a couple of the other old, old pros, the old hall of Famers, you know, they're out there voice in it and they're out there. Uh, you know, trying to get the money for the older guys. I know the chargers used to be Thursday was always alumni day and the alumni would come out and those guys would be limping and those guys would be hurting and sometimes the young guys would look at them and some guys, sometimes they go, there was a couple old guys coming by to watch practice, you know, but it's, it's a heavy toll. It's a heavy price and uh, you know, it's a short window. These guys can make the money. But those, uh, the of those games last long after the final whistle.

Speaker 6: 23:47 And you mentioned though the game remains pretty popular though there were, there were some stories in recent years that TV ratings were starting to erode a bit. Do you think this has an impact on that or that narrative? The joke, you know, money is there, the money is there a 11% the franchises went up last year, 2.8 billions. The, the, the average of the cowboys are worth 5.5 billion. You know, it's like your Labor Day Barbecue, you know, you got have a big plate of food and and on that corner, the cob, maybe just a couple of kernels are missing. They got a lot of food there and the chargers, you know, they went up 10% they're worth 2.5 billion now. So plenty of money. And with the bedding, the bedding and the [inaudible], the competition between more revenues, fantasy leagues and everybody. It's the heck of a business. I want to ask you before we're done here.

Speaker 6: 24:30 What about the impact this has had on kids and parents concerned and my pop Warner youth, that's where he really see the biggest change in, you know, five straight years. The high school prep, a numbers had been down in football. Even the lower levels pop warmer, they're not pop Warner, they're not letting him hit as they used to. When you had a, as a bill that goes into effect I think in a couple of years here we're on the contact and the contact the young age and really has trickled up or down from the NFL. I mean the rams don't allow tackling and practice and when I was covering the game under Marty Schottenheimer, they would put a big circle around called the old Oklahoma drill and two guys would just go at it as long as they could with what everybody cheering on. We've gone from that to the rams not letting anyone get tackled and practice.

Speaker 6: 25:12 That's a pretty big leap or a couple seconds left. Rule changes all the time, but there were the bigger, faster, stronger. You can't really make this a safe game. It's a context. Yeah. It's like taking the engine out of a car and calling it auto racing. You know, it's gonna happen. It's gonna happen. Okay, well, fascinating stuff. We'll see what happens. So we play out in this season. Well, that does wrap up another week of stories at the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, veterans sports writer, Jay Paris, Voice of San Diego reporters will hunt Sperry and Ashley McClellan and a reminder, all the stories we discussed today available on our website, kpbs.org I'm mark Sauer. Thanks for joining us today and be sure and join us again next week. Next Friday on the round table.

Speaker 2: 25:56 [inaudible].

KPBS Roundtable podcast branding

KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.