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Four former La Jolla High students who say they experienced unwanted touching in the classroom have sued San Diego Unified and former teacher Martin Teachworth. In addition to damages, they’re seeking changes to the procedures guiding the district’s handling of harassment complaints.
Another shoe has dropped in the case of a former La Jolla High School physics teacher long known for inappropriately touching female students.
Four former students who say they experienced groping and other unwanted touching in the classroom from 2003 through 2015 have sued San Diego Unified and the teacher, Martin Teachworth, who retired in 2017.
In addition to damages, the women are seeking changes to the procedures guiding the district’s handling of harassment complaints and the preservation of records detailing those complaints.
Complaints to administrators and investigators about Teachworth’s behavior went nowhere for years, until the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing opened an investigation and revoked Teachworth’s credential for misconduct last year.
Now, former students Loxie Gant, Emily Mandel, Maura Kanter and another unnamed woman are seeking redress under a new law – AB 218, written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez – that extended the statute of limitations for child victims of sexual abuse.
Gant told VOSD Teachworth grabbed her butt in class and squeezed twice, during the 2002-2003 school year. She immediately reported the incident to another teacher and the principal and spoke with an investigator at school. Kanter and Mandel previously told VOSD Teachworth grazed their breasts and squeezed their sides and hips and would tickle them, among other things. All said Teachworth’s actions and the district’s inaction had a lasting detrimental effect.
“This one incident changed the course of my entire life. I put my entire identity and reputation on the line when I became a public whistleblower in 2017,” Gant said Thursday. “The district denied knowledge then, but we know now that that was incorrect. I then knew how broken the system was but I didn’t have any other way to seek justice. I never thought I would have the chance to hold them accountable for what they did to us not just enabling this teacher to go on sexually abusing children for over a decade, but continuing to cover it up.”
Specifically, the plaintiffs allege assault by Teachworth, negligence by the school district and failure to provide a safe school environment. They are seeking damages totaling more than $25,000, as well as a court order that would change how the district handles student harassment complaints and require the preservation of complaint records.
San Diego Unified denied the existence of any complaints and investigations of Teachworth when Voice of San Diego first sought such records in 2015. Later, district records revealed a lengthy paper trail of complaints and investigations during Teachworth’s tenure, including a 2003 complaint alleging he put his hand down the back of a student’s pants that district officials concluded rose “to level of criminal prosecution.” Teachworth was never disciplined, and was only briefly removed from the classroom once when an anonymous complaint was made in 2016, according to district officials.
Mark Boskovich, one of the attorneys on the case, called the district’s failure to notify law enforcement or the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing about the alleged sexual abuse and harassment a “clear cover-up.”
“For all those who believe lawsuits are just about money; this lawsuit is different,” Boskovich said at a press conference Thursday. “It is also intended to force the school district to take necessary breach to protect current and former and future students.”
Additionally, the lawsuit seeks:
Last month, a San Diego Unified task force made a number of recommendations to the school board to improve the district’s handling of harassment and abuse cases, including new and improved trainings, that school staff not investigate misconduct claims against their subordinates and that the district’s internal Quality Assurance Office handle sexual misconduct complaints.
Teachworth did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday, but has previously denied engaging in “improper conduct with any student during my 38 years as a schoolteacher.”