DOWNTOWN LA — Officials with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District have been ordered to release the personnel file of a high school teacher who sexually harassed a 13-year-old female student at Santa Monica High School.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ruth Kwan ruled Thursday that parents who requested the information had a right to know what kind of contact math teacher Ari Marken had with the geometry student, and what discipline was administered following an investigation by the school district that found he violated the district’s sexual harassment policy.
Michael Chwe, a parent with two children at Samohi, filed a California Public Records Act request in December with the superintendent’s office in an attempt to learn more about the investigation involving Marken.
That was after more than 140 people signed a letter expressing disapproval of the district’s handling of the case and asking for more information about the incident.
The school district was in the process of responding to Chwe’s request when Marken filed a motion to block the release of the records.
Marken’s attorney said an appeal of Kwan’s ruling is likely. The personnel records will not be released pending the outcome of that appeal. Marken has until March 21 to file. If not, the district will release the records requested.
“I think this decision is great,” Chwe said. “When a teacher has been found to have sexually harassed a 13-year-old child, I believe the parents should be able to know what happened.”
Chwe said he has filed a lawsuit against the school district, claiming it failed to turn over the personnel file in a timely fashion, allowing Marken time to file a request for an injunction barring its release.
Superintendent Tim Cuneo said the district’s position has been to release the information requested by Chwe and that has never changed.
“If Mr. Marken wishes to appeal, he has that much time [March 21] to do so. If not, we will provide the information requested,” Cuneo said. “We plan to follow the law and since Mr. Marken’s attorney asked to have it heard, we had to wait for the court’s decision.”
In her ruling, Judge Kwan said the violation of the district’s sexual harassment policy by Marken was at the lower end of the spectrum, but even so, she felt parents have a right to know what occurred.
The district’s sexual harassment policy includes everything from making inappropriate jokes or drawings to teasing and touching someone’s clothes in a sexual way, as well as making unwanted sexual advances.
The father of the victim told the Daily Press that he still doesn’t know exactly what happened to his daughter, who told him she did not want to return to Samohi and is now attending school out of the country.
“The whole purpose of getting these records is because [the school district] kept it a secret,” said the father, who did not want his name used in this article out of concern that his daughter could be identified. “The district did not provide me any details and then [Marken] was hired back. … It’s not like he’s working at Sears. These are 13-year-old girls for crying out loud. He should have been fired.”
Marken’s attorney, Richard Schwab, said his client is a well-respected teacher and that the charges against him were of the lowest level, calling them “trivial.”
“I’m not here to try and stand in the place of an individual and guess how they might feel,” Schwab said. “The most innocuous things can happen and a person may be affected by it because it is personal. I think people looking at this [case] objectively would find it to be non-substantive.”
Schwab said the ruling could have a chilling effect on public employees, who may be afraid to cooperate in internal investigations if they knew their personnel records could be disclosed.
“I believe that the Court of Appeal would agree that the public’s right to know will not be compromised in this particular case if the information is not disclosed,” he said.