Inquiries Into Teacher Who Resigned Following Harassment Probe Went Nowhere - Voice of San Diego

Education UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Inquiries Into Teacher Who Resigned Following Harassment Probe Went Nowhere

More than a year after Voice of San Diego reported on a Chula Vista High School choir teacher found to have engaged in “severe and pervasive” sexual harassment of students, two official inquiries into Anthony Atienza’s behavior appear to have quietly ended with no action.

The School for the Creative and Performing Arts building at Chula Vista High School. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

More than a year after Voice of San Diego reported on a Chula Vista High School choir teacher found by the Sweetwater Union High School District to have engaged in “severe and pervasive” sexual harassment of students, two official inquiries into Anthony Atienza’s behavior appear to have quietly ended with no action.

The California Commission on Teacher Credentialing has closed its investigation into claims Atienza sexually harassed students.

Atienza’s credential remains valid and free of any public disciplinary action. The decision not to revoke Atienza’s credential for misconduct allows him to work freely for any public school statewide.

The Chula Vista Police Department also closed its review of the criminal case against Atienza, police officials said this month. The department had reopened its inquiry into Atienza’s conduct last year after receiving Sweetwater Union High School District’s investigation report for the first time from Voice of San Diego. But Sgt. Donte Kendricks said Aug. 2 the case is again closed.

“The internal investigation did not reveal any additional information which the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office was not aware of … The case remains closed with the CVPD Family Protection Unit,” Kendricks wrote in an email.

Sweetwater officials investigated Atienza in 2017 after three female students complained he harassed and groped them repeatedly. An assistant principal found the students’ harassment claims credible after a months-long investigation.

Atienza has adamantly denied the allegations, and said they came from “the imaginations of three troubled high school girls.” He did not respond to multiple phone and email inquiries made since July 30.

Students said Atienza spanked them, ran his hand over their thighs, made sexual comments and took photos of them. Some of the touching and leering behavior was witnessed by other students, according to the school district’s 63-page report. One student reported a startling encounter at a hotel on a school trip to Disneyland. Another student reported he groped her from behind while on the bus during the same trip.

The school 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.”

After VOSD’s initial report about the complaints, other alumni reached out and reported they too were harassed and touched inappropriately by Atienza over the years.

Atienza remained on paid leave for the duration of the 2017-18 school year and voluntarily resigned last June under the terms of a settlement agreement with Sweetwater that required the district to keep the complaints and investigation confidential from future employers.

Per the settlement obtained by VOSD, Sweetwater provided its investigation to state teacher credentialing officials as required by law, but must respond to inquiries about Atienza by saying, “Mr. Atienza has voluntarily resigned from the District, and we wish him well.”

While on leave from his teaching job at Chula Vista High in 2018, Atienza taught classes at Lakeside Middle School, as well as Christian Youth Theater and Junior Theater.

Representatives from all three said they were unaware of the complaints and the district’s findings when they hired Atienza.

Atienza has not worked for those two theater groups since, their leaders said. Nor the Lakeside district, officials said this month.

Atienza is, however, still working with kids.

Atienza continues to direct a local youth singing group formed in 2017 called California Singin’ that has performed the national anthem at multiple sports arenas, according to YouTube posts by Atienza and others. The group performed a song from the Lion King for KUSI July 14 and advertised auditions for the public. Atienza identified himself as the director to KUSI reporters, and students on camera said Atienza chooses who is admitted to the musical group.

Atienza also recently volunteered on the production “13” by the Theater for Young Professionals, based in La Mesa. The show’s week-long run at the Diversionary Theater in San Diego ended Aug. 3. The group’s co-founder and artistic director, Jessica Couto, confirmed Atienza was working on the show as a volunteer.

One of the students whose complaints launched the 2017 Sweetwater investigation wants others to beware, and is speaking out publicly for the first time.

“I don’t think that he should be allowed to be around kids at all,” said Lua Gollo, now 18. Gollo transferred from Chula Vista High to Hilltop High in the fall of 2017. Among other things, she told school officials Atienza would slide his hand up her shirt, rub her thighs and once tried to get her alone at a hotel room on a school trip. She graduated earlier this year.

Gollo said her experience has caused her to distrust men, and she wants to make sure others aren’t hurt like she was.

“I just would like to urge the public to please, don’t let this happen to another person because it did change everything for me. It did, and it was not worth a couple solos, you know?” she said.

Adriana Heldiz contributed to this report.

Show Comments
Loading

We’re striving for the best possible discussion and may delete comments using our editorial judgment. All comments containing links will be reviewed by VOSD staff before they are published.
Read our full comment policy.
For longer comments, consider submitting an op-ed to Voice of San Diego.
Read the guidelines here.

We have recently updated our commenting system. If you are unable to submit a comment, please clear the cache and cookies in your browser, or use a private browsing window. Click here for detailed instructions.