Sacramento Report: Bill Would Take Teacher Misconduct Complaints Out of Schools' Hands - Voice of San Diego

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Sacramento Report: Bill Would Take Teacher Misconduct Complaints Out of Schools' Hands

The author of the bill that allowed unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses is raising a red flag about how that data is being used following a VOSD investigation, Assemblyman Randy Voepel has two bills addressing college affordability and more in our weekly roundup of news from Sacramento.

La Jolla High School
La Jolla High School / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

A bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez – inspired by Voice of San Diego’s reporting – would create an ombudsman position in school districts or county boards of education to oversee sexual harassment and misconduct complaints.

In 2017, four women shared their stories with VOSD about their experiences in La Jolla High School teacher Martin Teachworth’s class while they were students, between 2002 and 2013. Teachworth’s groping, they said, included grazing their chest, tickling their stomach and squeezing their hips, thighs and butt.

Most voiced their concerns to school administration at the time, but an investigation by VOSD found officials had kept no records of their complaints. Teachworth’s conduct was investigated on at least four separate occasions. The district removed him from the classroom just once. Some student complaints may have never left the principal’s office.

Gonzalez released some of the intended language for AB 989, which would “establish in each County Office of Education or school district a new position for providing guidance and compliance with the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act. Local officials would also be required to create a centralized toll-free number and website for individuals to submit complaints to that public school ombudsperson,” according to her office.

The details are still being ironed out, and the biggest question surrounding the bill is likely to be how to handle the cost, since it likely entails a new position.

Gonzalez said the cultural change the bill would require could pose a challenge as well.

“I think this is going to scare districts,” she said. “You have a duty to respond. I think a lot of times the reason it kind of gets swept under the rug is it’s just far easier to not respond, or to minimize the action.”

Gonzalez also said she was alarmed by VOSD’s finding that La Jolla High and the San Diego Unified School District claimed not to have any records of complaints against Teachworth, though several women told us they voiced their concerns to administrators. She hopes this bill will ensure a paper trail is created for each complaint, which could help school officials notice patterns of behavior.

“This will ensure that there’s records,” she said. “This is about: How do we make people accountable when we’re talking about our most vulnerable population, which are kids.”

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VOSD has been investigating sexual misconduct cases in San Diego public schools for more than a year. One of the most disturbing – and recurring – findings from that effort has been that problem educators can stay in the classroom thanks to confidentiality agreements prohibiting districts from revealing the misconduct to prospective employers.

To that end, Republican Sen. Mike Morrell plans to re-introduce a bill that would force potential employers to check in with past employers about serious misconduct, and require past employers to reveal the results of their investigations.

“There’s nothing in law right now that requires a teacher to disclose anything about whether they’ve been investigated for sexual misconduct, and there’s nothing in the law right now that requires a school to provide information on a teacher that was investigated at their school for sexual misconduct,” said Jessica Wenger, Morrell’s deputy chief of staff.

The bill died an early death last year, following pushback from teachers unions and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Cathy Shur of the ACLU of California testified that “you also are almost certainly … going to wind up with a person who becomes unemployable in the school system because regardless of the truth of those allegations, the hiring school is going to be very reluctant to hire someone based on the mere allegations regardless of what the outcome of the investigation was.”

Shur noted that it’s already required by law that school officials report suspected abuse to police.

But Terri Miller, president of the group Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct & Exploitation, a sponsor of the bill, said that those reporting mandates aren’t enough.

“We have so many great reporting mandates,” she said. “But this is addressing the problem from the front end, by preventing the predators from getting into the classroom in the first place. Reporting laws are great, but children have already been harmed when a report has been made. Schools should be the safest place for our children.”

Wenger said Morrell is in the midst of searching for Democratic co-authors for the bill.

“We want it to be bipartisan,” she said. “It is a bipartisan issue.”

Lawmakers Urge Governor to Protect Immigrants’ DMV Data

The lawmaker who wrote AB 60, the 2013 California law allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, is asking the governor and other state lawmakers to look into whether the law is being used by federal immigration authorities to target immigrants, following a VOSD report.

Several immigrants detained by ICE told us that agents had copies of their California driver’s licenses, obtained under AB 60, and other information they provided to the DMV, when they came to arrest them.

Luis Alejo, who wrote AB 60 and who is now a Monterey County supervisor, asked Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers in a letter to consider additional safeguards that could protect immigrants.

“I urge you to investigate how the DMV AB60 data is being used by the Department of Homeland Security, ICE and Customs and Border Protection, and approve additional legislation to better safeguard the privacy and information that California immigrants are providing to obtain their AB60 drivers licenses,” he wrote.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez also wrote on Twitter that her office is working with the governor on the issue.

Voepel Has College Affordability on the Brain

Republican Assemblyman Randy Voepel has introduced two bills this session that could potentially help students at California colleges and universities pay for school.

One would raise the age cutoff for recipients of Cal Grants from 28 to 30. The last time the Cal Grant age limit was raised was in 2007, when it increased from 24 to 28.

The Cal Grant program provides grant money – which doesn’t have to be paid back – to students at most California colleges and universities whose families earn below set income limits that vary depending on family size. The grant amount is capped at the cost of tuition for public institutions, and at about $9,000 for private ones.

“With the rise of student debt and more people going back to school to obtain an undergraduate degree, it becomes problematic for potential students to learn that they don’t qualify for a Cal Grant because of their age,” Voepel said in a statement.

The other bill would require the University of California and California State University systems to establish pilot programs for what are known as income-share agreements. Beginning in the 2021-22 academic year, students on select campuses would, in lieu of student loans, have their tuition paid for with money allocated in the bill.

They would then be required to pay back a percentage of their salaries for 10 years, beginning six months after graduation.

That means that a graduate with a salary of $100,000 would pay back significantly more than a graduate with a salary of $40,000, regardless of how much their tuition cost.

A graduate wouldn’t have to make payments if they were earning under $20,000, but payments would commence if their salary goes above that threshold.

The pilot program would run through 2026. But the hope is that if it’s successful, it can be extended indefinitely and expanded to all 22 CSU campuses and all 12 UC campuses, Adam Boman, a legislative assistant for Voepel, said.

And if the program has legs, another goal is to get private companies to put funds into it – basically investing in their own future workers.

“As this program goes along, probably bigger companies – like for the cyber industry, maybe – are going to want to fund more money,” Boman said.

An earlier version of the bill passed the Assembly last year with unanimous support, but ran into opposition from the California Department of Finance due to its cost. Officials estimated that if the pilot program were provided to 100 students each at a CSU and UC campus, it would cost both systems around $2 million.

That bill ultimately died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Even outside the Department of Finance, the idea is not without controversy. A 2015 Inside Higher Education story compared income-sharing agreements to indentured servitude. Forbes said it could better compare to a start-up company in which investors provide an entrepreneur with funds up-front in exchange for potential returns down the road.

“Of course,” Inside Higher Education notes, “if a startup fails, you can declare it bankrupt and start another one. The same does not apply to people. That’s why the ‘indentured servitude’ critique keeps sticking.”

CSU and UC spokespeople said policy analysts were reviewing the bills, but neither system has yet taken an official position.

Golden State News

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