San Lorenzo Valley High School
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
K-12 Education

Two SLV High teachers on paid leave as district investigates misconduct allegations against four employees

The allegations against the San Lorenzo Valley High School staffers have been shared with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, said San Lorenzo Valley Unified Superintendent Laurie Bruton, adding that “the district takes all allegations of this nature seriously.”

Two San Lorenzo Valley High School teachers are on leave — among a total of four district employees under investigation — as a swirl of misconduct allegations against them have surfaced on social media in recent weeks, the district’s superintendent said.

Social science teacher Eric Kahl and science teacher William Winkler are both on paid leave as the investigation takes place, according to San Lorenzo Valley Unified Superintendent Laurie Bruton. The district is also investigating misconduct allegations against two other employees whose identities and positions Bruton did not disclose.

The allegations have been shared with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, Bruton said, adding that “the district takes all allegations of this nature seriously.”

The district first publicly acknowledged the allegations — many made anonymously on Instagram — in an April 1 letter to families. They come as another former teacher accused of sexual misconduct, Michael Henderson, is awaiting trial in Santa Cruz County Superior Court.

“Recently, our District Administration was made aware of concerns from a former student(s) related to some alleged inappropriate conduct by a teacher at SLVHS,” the April 1 letter states. “Since that time, additional allegations have come to the District’s attention both directly and via social media, including a local Instagram page designated for sexual abuse survivors to report incidents.”

SLV high alumna Leann Anderson, who graduated in 2019, publicly accused Kahl of inappropriate behavior in a post shared March 30 via an Instagram account created to host stories from survivors of sexual abuse. In an interview with Lookout, Anderson verified she authored the post, and said she had submitted the same allegations to the district March 29, along with screenshots of messages and other documentation.

Kahl is a social science teacher who has worked in the district since 1997, according to personnel records. Four current or former students have raised allegations about Kahl, Bruton confirmed to Lookout on Wednesday evening.

“There are several different allegations or complaints, we don’t have enough info to determine specifics right now,” Bruton said via email. Both the district, and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office, are involved in the investigation, she added.

Joseph Cisneros, an attorney representing Kahl, denied the allegations, calling them “false and defamatory” in an email to Lookout. “At this time, because of the confidentiality of the employment proceedings, he is not free to comment on the matter,” Cisneros wrote.

Cisneros is also representing Winkler, who records show has worked at the district since 1985. Responding on Winkler’s behalf on Thursday, Cisneros said Winkler, too, has done nothing wrong.

“Mr. Winkler has worked for the school district for over 30 years and is a long standing successful educator,” Cisneros wrote in an email. “He has done nothing wrong. The only allegations against Mr. Winkler are false and malicious second hand comments/rumors that he supposedly ‘physically assaulted’ a student.”

With just one high school and middle school and an enrollment of about 5,400 students, San Lorenzo Valley Unified is a relatively small district encompassing several small towns that dot Highway 9 as it runs through the rural valley. The high school itself is in Felton.

Accusations of sexual misconduct have rocked the district several times in recent years. Henderson, the former computer science teacher, was arrested in 2019 and is facing multiple felony counts for allegedly sexually abusing a girl under age 14. Henderson has pleaded not guilty, and his case is ongoing in Santa Cruz County Superior Court.

And in 2017, during the midst of the #MeToo movement, a woman stepped forward to accuse a San Lorenzo Valley High School assistant principal of repeatedly coercing her into sex in 1997, when she was 16, when he taught at her Solano County high school and coached her swim team. Multiple former classmates corroborated her story, as did the woman’s mother who said she confronted her daughter’s alleged abuser in a phone call in which he apologized to her personally.

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The assistant principal, Ned Hearn, denied the allegations. A police report was filed, but he never faced charges. Hearn was temporarily placed on leave, then transferred to an assignment at the district office, where he continues to work as SLVUSD’s assistant superintendent of instruction.

Newly surfacing accounts of alleged sexual abuse and inappropriate behavior involving district employees began circulating late in March on an Instagram account created to share stories from survivors of sexual abuse. Other postings to the page allege misconduct from other students, or are unrelated to the school district.

“This is about breaking a cycle, and having our voices heard,” a post describing the page’s mission states. “SLV for far too long has fostered an environment that allows sexual assault and rape, and continuously sweeps everything under the rug.”

The victim, 37-year-old Daniel Hartley, was found dead in the early hours of Jan. 17 near the 700 block of Emeline...

A separate page has also appeared with additional stories of sexual misconduct and abuse focused on the San Lorenzo Valley. That page, its operators said via direct message, is run by a group of five female students in the San Lorenzo Valley district. They declined to offer further information.

A Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson was unable to confirm the office’s involvement. A representative of the San Lorenzo Valley Unified teachers’ union also declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigations.

Updates:

5:21 PM, Apr. 15, 2021: This story has been updated to include a response from William Winkler’s attorney.