By Ken Stone
In the wake of numerous cases of alleged teacher misconduct, the San Diego Unified School District on Friday announced a task force to improve interagency collaboration to better protect children from sexual harassment and abuse.
The group includes San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott and San Diego police Capt. Rich Freedman, plus students, parents and experts from the county and local hospitals.
One of the members, Loxie Gant, was active in calling attention to long-term behavior by one of her former teachers at La Jolla High School.
Gant said: “As a parent, child safety in schools is of the utmost importance to me. The task force will help fill the gap among regional partners to better protect our students.”
Michael Marquez — the school district’s own police chief — will serve as chair, with plans to start work immediately, the district said.
“As the second-largest school district in California, we have a vital interest in protecting young people from harassment and abuse,” said Trustee Richard Barrera, who sponsored the resolution creating the task force and will be a part of it along with board Vice President John Lee Evans.
“This initiative to enhance the cooperation among public agencies and community organizations will only serve to benefit everyone involved,” Barrera said in a statement.
Voice of San Diego, in a story Friday, said it’s unclear which police agency — the city or school district’s — should take the lead on dealing with sex-abuse reports, including those involving teachers or staff.
“In some cases,” said Voice, “it’s hazy when exactly San Diego Unified police involved SDPD. In one case, school police didn’t notify SDPD at all.”
District spokeswoman Maureen Magee was quoted as saying: “School police are mandated reporters and must report all suspected child abuse to [county Child Welfare Services], which makes the determination on notifying SDPD.”
The school district says the goal of the task force is to identify potential areas for improvement regarding collaboration between the various agencies working to protect children from sexual harassment and abuse.
Others committed to taking part are:
- Abby Brewer-Johnson, chair, San Diego Psychological Association Child, Family and Youth Committee
- Rickeena Boyd-Kamei, San Diego Education Association member
- Kimberly Giardina, acting director, San Diego County Child Welfare Services
- Rebecca Mendiola, San Diego County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent of Student Services
- Bryce Benavente Pablo-Cook, student, School of Creative and Performing Arts
- Derby Pattengill, parent/advocate
- Jolie Pickett, Administrators Association San Diego president
- Tracy Prior, deputy district attorney, Office of the County District Attorney
- Jay Sieber, Student, San Diego High School
- Dr. Suzanne Starling, medical director, Chadwick Center for Children and Families, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and clinical professor, Department of Pediatrics, UCSD School of Medicine
- Mahogany Taylor, parent/advocate
- And Charles Wilson, senior director, Chadwick Center for Children and Families, Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego
Last month, Voice of San Diego reported that San Diego Unified officials said 10 employees were disciplined or found responsible for sexual misconduct over a 10-year period ending in late 2017.
“But during much of that same period, the district reported 45 teachers to a statewide agency that handles educator misconduct,” the news site said. “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.”
Updated at 5:15 p.m. Sept. 27, 2019
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