In April of last school year, a Woodcreek high school freshman reported incidents of sexual harassment by Health and Safety teacher Doug Mason. As per protocol, RJUHSD assistant superintendent Steve Williams led an investigation to determine the validity of allegations made. Upon a complaint or allegation against a faculty member, the district must meet with all parties involved and review evidence and legal matters prior to any directive measures.
According to a letter from Williams to the parents of the student, a first investigation led the district to believe that Mason’s behavior violated professional standards. However, the district did not move forward with dismissal.
The parents of the student who originally filed a complaint against Mason requested that the California Department of Education (CDE) review the case. Ultimately, the CDE determined that RJUHSD had not considered all of the evidence present and suggested that the district launch a second investigation. After the conclusion that Mason had harassed the student but not to the level it required his dismissal, he was transferred to Roseville and Oakmont High Schools for the 2017-18 school year.
While word spread of Mason’s accusations, Basham announced via email that “similar allegations” have been brought forward. Consequently, Mason was placed on administrative leave as a third investigation ensued.
Mason is currently waiting for the completion of the third investigation before he may receive an ultimatum.
RJUHSD, like all school districts, must abide by administrative regulations while determining disciplinary actions regarding teachers and cannot dismiss employees without a substantial amount of evidence. Districts must consider several regulations in place when a complaint is made against a faculty member before determining a form of punishment.
“[The purpose of a thorough investigations is] to determine what actually happened and to then make a fair and reasonable decision that falls within the guidelines spelled out in Board Policies, Administrative Regulations, and CA Education Code,” Williams said in an email.
According to RJUHSD personnel services executive director Brad Basham, school districts constantly find themselves attempting to balance necessary discipline and what is allowed by administrative regulations in different cases. Individual school districts do not possess the ability to dismiss employees without conducting thorough investigations and must follow administrative regulations.
“We are not a private business where we can just let employees go,” Basham said. “We are prohibited from doing that and we have to work within the confines of the law.”
Among the several institutions that may protect teachers from disciplinary actions are the grounds tenure covers. According to Basham, tenure prevents non-business employers such as RJUHSD from dismissing teachers for personal beliefs and offers job security to attract those looking into the profession. While tenure may protect free speech for teachers fulfilling their roles, it is difficult to dismiss underperforming staff members since they are not committing any “egregious offenses” that constitute dismissal.
“[Tenure] does make it a little more difficult because the process is lengthy and it’s more expensive but it doesn’t keep us from dismissing,” Basham said.“It certainly wouldn’t be something of which we say ‘we’re not going to move forward and dismiss this teacher for this unprofessional behavior because they have tenure.’”
While tenure may protect teachers from minor offenses, the district can take progressive measures of discipline such as verbal warnings or written letter of reprimand.
“There are some things that rise straight to the top,” Basham said. “If you had a teacher who had what we call an egregious act such as sexual battery…that could most likely be an immediate suspension once we conduct an investigation.”
Teachers must undergo a probationary period for two years after hiring before they may receive tenure. Basham believes this time period should be lengthened to ensure students receive quality educators.
“As a school leader you have more time to really evaluate the effectiveness and the professionalism of a new teacher to your district,” Basham said. “You can’t risk having them impact your students for the next 30 years.”
According to Basham, the California Teachers Association (CTA) would oppose legislature that lengthens probationary periods. The latest proposal to increase the probationary time period to three years have failed.
“We want our kids to be safe,” Basham said. “At the same time, the piece that tenure gets in the way of is the underperforming teacher in the classroom.”
According to RHS teachers union representative Jon Coleman, it is the union’s job to ensure teachers under investigation receive due process. Coleman believes that tenure supplies educators with job security.
“Tenure in California is incredibly strong,” Coleman said. “As a teacher I feel very protected.”