Viewpoint: The Troublesome Case of a Former Pali High School Teacher

By Sue Pascoe

This is a tough one on many levels. And before we go any further we obviously are aware that in our legal system, a person is innocent until proven guilty.

Last May, the editor of the News was approached in town by a resident who asked why our paper hadn’t yet published a story about the Palisades High School teacher who was suspected of inappropriate behavior with teen girls. The person accused us of trying to cover up “bad news” to protect the high school.

Our editor answered honestly that she hadn’t heard anything about the teacher. She also assured the person that we don’t hide from bad news and that if there was something at the high school to report, we would do so. We support Palisades High but we’re not a cheerleader.

We began our reporting by calling PaliHi for information. The school, because of the teacher’s union and legal issues regarding employees, was not allowed to release any information.

We did not contact the girl because we felt that if she had tried to avoid publicity surrounding this case, it likely was because this was not something she wanted to define her. Particularly with the Internet, one click on her name and this case would be everywhere. Those of us who have daughters understood why she had not come forward publicly.

Through other means, we did learn that the teacher in question had been put on administrative leave for the 2016-17 school year. That meant that not only was PaliHi paying this man to stay out of the classroom for the entire year, the school also had to pay a long-term substitute to replace him. It signified that school officials took the girl’s accusations seriously enough that they didn’t want this teacher on campus and were willing to pay two salaries to achieve it.

Our next step was to contact the LAPD and ask for a copy of the police report, which had been filed.

On July 26, we received an email from Charles Clifton in the LAPD Legal Affairs Division Discovery Section. Actually, it was a form letter telling us that “the case is still pending ongoing investigation; therefore, your request is denied.” It was signed by Clifton for Martin Bland, Senior Management Analyst for the Discovery Section.

We didn’t pursue the issue further because it was an ongoing investigation and the teacher was out of the classroom, away from girls.

But then, in late August, we learned that the man had secured a job as an assistant principal for the 2017-18 school year at a high school in a different school district than LAUSD.

We asked PaliHi Principal Dr. Pam Magee if that school had called them about a recommendation, or more specifically for information about the teacher. She said “no,” the school had not called. But given that employers are legally constrained from talking about a past employee, PaliHi could not have commented about the teacher, since the police investigation was still ongoing.

Earlier this week, we again asked LAPD’s Clifton if the issue was still part of an on-going investigation. We have not heard back, yet.

We also contacted the new school and spoke with an assistant principal about the police report. She said potential issue was news to her. She was immediately concerned and promised to interrupt the principal, who was in a meeting and discuss the issue. She also thanked us for alerting them to the report.

One thing is clear to the News: If a teacher is under police investigation for inappropriate behavior with a minor, that person should not be in a classroom or school setting or any situation where there are other juveniles, until that person’s name is cleared.

The rights that have been put in place to protect those who are innocent are necessary and good. But in this case, until there is a judgement, how do we balance that right with the need to look out for our young teens? How do you balance the rights of someone who may be doing something inappropriate, with the right to let other parents have that knowledge?

In the past, we as parents have been outraged when it was later revealed in news stories that people knew for years about someone who was abusing children and teens and nothing was done by authorities. There have been just too many cases involving the LAUSD, the Catholic Church, and various organizations, when child molesters were moved from place to place and no one spoke up.

Once again, we say a person is innocent until proven guilty, but if a person is suspected of inappropriate activity with a child and there is an active police case, that person should not be near children or teenagers. That is just common sense.

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