There’s a new scandal at the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

In October of 2008, the district initiated an investigation following a complaint that a teacher sexually harassed a 13-year-old female student in a ninth grade math class — a violation of SMMUSD policy 5145.7 (sexual harassment). The accused teacher was placed on temporary leave for five weeks during the investigation.

Then Assistant Superintendent Mike Matthews notified the girl’s parents on Dec. 4 of that year: "The district found that (the teacher) had violated Board Policy 5145.7 and has taken appropriate action … I expect your daughter will not experience any future problems.”

One year later on Dec. 3, 2009, Patrick DeCarolis an attorney representing the girl’s family, sent Matthews copies of 2007 Facebook communications between the same teacher and another young woman, who was a Santa Monica High School student at the time. The teacher was again put on leave for the rest of the 2009-10 year while a second investigation was conducted.

On Aug. 30, 2010, after DeCarolis learned that the teacher would be returning to teaching duties for the current (2010-11) school year, he sent an e-mail to roughly 20 teachers and 200 parents requesting information about the teacher.

One day later, Aug. 31, SMMUSD Superintendent Tim Cuneo responded by e-mailing some staff and PTA leaders that DeCarolis’s allegations were one-sided and inaccurate. He wrote, “The district has complied with all legal obligations in the handling of this matter” and “all appropriate actions were taken to ensure student safety." He continued about DeCarolis’s e-mail: “It involves a confidential personnel matter, the release of which is subject to legal protections. Please destroy all copies of the e-mail and do not forward it or discuss the content of the e-mail with others.”

On Sept. 8, parent Michael Chwe sent two e-mails to Cuneo asking for clarification of the claim of inaccuracies supposedly in DeCarolis’s e-mail and questioned the district’s legal authority for ordering the destruction of the e-mail and demands that all parities should refrain from discussing the matter. Sounds like a gag order to me. Hasn’t the district learned its lesson about “gag orders?”

Cuneo responded on Dec. 9 to Chwe: “The further dissemination of inaccurate information which may include slanderous accusations comes with it legal risk and liability. As such the district response to the recipients about the information did not mince words in describing the seriousness of further dissemination.” Cuneo goes on: “The district has an obligation to protect the confidentiality and the liberty interests of its employees” and “cannot provide additional information about the confidential personnel matter.”

So, the rights of parents to know the facts about the two investigations involving possible inappropriate behavior affecting school children collides with a district employee’s right to privacy? Without knowing all the facts — except for the fact that the “employee” was investigated, and placed on leave twice in two years and apparently not charged with a crime — it raises questions as to why parent concerns have not been met in a more satisfactory manner.

Even more perplexing is the reaction of Debbie Mulvaney, president of the Samohi PTSA, who told the Daily Press (”District defends handling of sexual harassment case,” Dec. 7, Pg. 1) that she had been aware of the case for months but believed district officials acted appropriately.

“She said she thinks those who have signed Chwe’s letter don’t understand the legal protections that exist in harassment cases against teachers,” she told our reporter. I think they do, Debbie.

She then said, “If I thought there was a real issue, as a representative of parents, I would be leading the charge.” Obviously, Mulvaney was not one of the 140 parents who signed Chwe’s letter questioning the way the district is handling this situation.

Maybe for Mulvaney and the rest of the school cheerleaders, as usual, it’s better to keep one’s head in the sand?

New council fails first test <p>

I’m disappointed. Last Monday, I opined that Kevin McKeown and/or Bobby Shriver should be appointed mayor by the newly-elected City Council. Instead, council members voted Tuesday to appoint Richard Bloom as mayor. Pam O’Connor, Terry O’Day and Bob Holbrook supported Bloom. Bobby Shriver and Gleam Davis backed McKeown. Bloom and McKeown voted for themselves.

This is Bloom’s third time as mayor. McKeown who garnered the most votes in the recent election has never served as mayor despite serving three terms on the dais. Chalk it up to “bad blood” between McKeown and O’Connor who has made no secrets about her distaste for McKeown.

Bloom is considering running for Julia Brownley’s Assembly seat — she’s termed out in 2012. He knows that “mayor” is a more prestigious title than just ”council member." Unfortunately for the public, this has more to do with ego than the best interests of the community.

I know why O’Connor didn’t support McKeown but Holbrook and O’Day? It’s only another misguided vote from O’Day and one more inexplicable vote from Holbrook.

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com.

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