SMMUSD HDQTRS — After over a year and a half in court, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has turned over materials relating to an investigation and punishment of a Santa Monica High School math teacher who sexually harassed a female student in 2008.

The two documents — a report by a private investigator who looked into the allegations and an official reprimand — reveal that Samohi geometry teacher Ari Marken was inappropriate with a 13-year-old student, going so far as to send personal e-mails calling the girl his “favorite” and touching her hair in class.

School administration investigated the incident, reprimanded Marken and forwarded the results of the investigation to the Santa Monica Police Department.

No criminal charges were filed, and Marken is still an active teacher at Samohi.

The documents in question have been the subject of a court battle initiated by district parent Michael Chwe after the district refused to turn over the information after Chwe filed a California Public Records request for the documents in December 2010.

The district delayed nearly two months before denying Chwe’s request, giving Marken enough time to file a third-party lawsuit arguing that his right to privacy outweighed Chwe’s ability to request public records under the First Amendment.

A Los Angeles Superior Court ruled against Marken in March 2011, and an appeals court upheld that ruling in January 2012.

Marken will not appeal the matter to the state Supreme Court, said Richard Schwab, Marken’s attorney.

The documents

The investigation adds details to a story that in the past was only painted in broad brush strokes.

According to the investigation, conducted by Robin Oaks, an attorney specializing in investigations in academic settings, Marken repeatedly contacted the student through his personal e-mail account, attended her tennis matches and once played tennis with her shirtless.

In those e-mails he inquired about her matches, and told her that she was his favorite student, asking her not to spread it around.

“Don’t tell others that you’re my favorite,” the report quotes. “I’m not supposed to have those.”

Marken also went to her English class during “nutrition time” between second and third period and brought her a granola bar because she said she hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning.

While there, Marken asked her whether or not she had a “crush” on anyone in the room.

The allegations came to light on Oct. 20, 2008 when the student’s mother went to Samohi House Principal Larry Boone with concerns that her daughter had been sexually harassed by Marken.

According to the report, the girl’s grades had begun to slip, and she was acting downtrodden and unwilling to go to school. Her mother believed that Marken’s behavior was the cause of her distress.

Marken defended himself to the district. He said that he called many students “his favorite” as a way to bolster their self-esteem and make them feel special. He also said that he kept a stash of granola bars in his classroom specifically for hungry students.

Although it was determined that Marken had violated the district’s sexual harassment policy, the matter never got further than a reprimand.

The findings were considered “inconclusive” because neither the victim nor other students were interviewed at the request of parents.

In the reprimand, Michael Matthews, the assistant superintendent at the time, wrote that Marken had created “an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational environment.”

The aftermath

Now that he has the documents, Chwe intends to make them available on his website, www.smmusdsafety.org, so that parents can review the information and come to their own conclusions about the incident, how the district handled it and whether or not they want their children in Marken’s class.

People can’t make decisions without basic information, he said.

“It’s very important for all of us to feel like when a student is harassed, the district investigates it properly, that there are consequences and that we can be confident in the district’s ability to do so,” Chwe said.

Attorneys on both sides of the matter take opposing views on what the release means for future cases.

Marken’s attorney, Schwab, counted the ruling as a win even though the documents were made public because the court allowed Marken to sue to protect his information.

That suit was unsuccessful, but opened the door for teachers and other officials to try and protect their information from records requests.

“When we set out to protect Mr. Marken, we were protecting not only his interests but the rights of others who are victimized by individuals who use public records requests as menacing tools rather than a way to acquire knowledge,” Schwab said.

Jeff Glasser, an attorney with San Francisco law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, dismissed that characterization. Glasser represented Chwe.

“To read that decision as supporting teachers’ privacy rights is to pervert what the decision says,” Glasser said.

The final result of the case, that disciplinary records of public school teachers that violate sexual harassment policies must be turned over on request, stands.

“That was the important policy that we wanted reaffirmed,” Glasser said.

ashley@smdp.com

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