‘Inappropriate and shameful’: SLV superintendent apologizes, promises full probe of misconduct allegations
“Sexual abuse, harassment, intolerance, and discrimination will not be tolerated in our schools. If true, these incidents do not meet our standard for professional conduct,” Superintendent Laurie Bruton wrote, also providing parents with a litany of ways to report allegations.
In a new letter Friday, San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District’s superintendent apologized to the community and said her district is “aggressively pursuing” its investigation into a series of misconduct allegations that have led to two SLV High teachers being placed on paid leave.
The letter, which took a more personal tone than one about the situation sent on April 1, asks current and former students who might have experienced inappropriate behavior by teachers to report the allegations to district officials or law enforcement. Freshmen at SLV High started in-person classes this week with upperclassmen headed back on Tuesday, April 27.
“We truly regret that their school experience was made difficult by the inappropriate and shameful actions or behaviors of those entrusted to educate and support them,” SLVUSD Superintendent Laurie Bruton wrote in the letter. “You have our commitment that we will track down the facts in all of these cases.”
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An unspecified number of potentially criminal allegations have been shared with law enforcement, with whom the district is fully cooperating, Bruton added. The district is also reviewing its internal policies and procedures “to be sure we are using best practices for dealing with employee misconduct allegations in the future,” Bruton wrote.
Allegations against at least four district employees began circulating late in March. Many were posted anonymously to two Instagram accounts created to share stories from survivors of sexual abuse. One of those accounts, which claimed to be operated by five female students from the SLV district, is now deactivated. The second Instagram account, called “santacruzsurvivorsspeak,” recently posted “due to recent exposure, we are finally being heard. . . . With the recent publications about our accounts, we strongly believe that the community and the district will hold these teachers accountable.”
“These social media posts allege behaviors and actions by employees that are disturbing and saddening,” Bruton wrote. “Sexual abuse, harassment, intolerance, and discrimination will not be tolerated in our schools. If true, these incidents do not meet our standard for professional conduct by staff, and appropriate disciplinary actions will be taken.”
These social media posts allege behaviors and actions by employees that are disturbing and saddening. Sexual abuse, harassment, intolerance, and discrimination will not be tolerated in our schools. If true, these incidents do not meet our standard for professional conduct by staff, and appropriate disciplinary actions will be taken.
— SLVUSD Superintendent Laurie Bruton
Since the posts surfaced, two SLV High teachers have been placed on paid leave while the district investigates allegations against them. The district has declined to identify or disclose the positions held by other members of its staff currently under investigation.
At least five current or former students have shared concerns with the district about alleged inappropriate behavior of one of those teachers, social studies teacher Eric Kahl. Two of those former students have spoken out publicly. An attorney for Kahl has said his client denies he behaved inappropriately.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office is aware of the allegations and last week said it was reviewing them to determine if any crimes may have been committed. Friday, a spokesperson for the agency said she had no updates to share.
District urges staff not to speak out publicly
And in an email circulated to staff on Monday — on the eve of the SLV High freshmen starting in-person classes — Bruton urged employees to avoid speaking publicly.
“To help maintain the integrity of our investigation we would encourage employees to refrain from speaking with news reporters or discussing situations with your colleagues and on social media,” Bruton said in the email to staff, a copy of which was obtained by Lookout. “Your comments can become part of the overall cases we are looking into and you may be called on as a witness.”
How to report allegations of misconduct to SLVUSD
SLVUSD is encouraging current or former students who have experienced sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct to report it immediately to the district.
That email went on to encourage staff to report any information about possible misconduct directly to district officials.
In her community letter Friday, Bruton urged any current or former students who experienced sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct to report it directly to the district — either to two specific staff contacts detailed in the letter or via an online form. Criminal allegations should be reported directly to the sheriff’s office, Bruton wrote.
Acknowledging calls for the district to release more information, Bruton added that her hands were tied by the anonymous nature of many of the allegations and the due process rights of the accused.
“We cannot act on rumors, innuendo, or speculation from secondhand sources,” she wrote. “School districts are charged with a responsibility to protect the due process and privacy rights of everyone involved. As such, we are restricted in what we can say publicly as the investigations proceed.”
Read Bruton’s letter to parents and the SLVUSD community below:
1:25 PM, Apr. 24, 2021: This story was updated Saturday afternoon to include information from an Instagram account that has been making allegations regarding SLV High teachers.