June 11 was a day of relief and closure for Palo Alto High School English teacher Kevin Sharp. Or so he thought.
Almost nine months since being accused of having an improper relationship with an 18-year-old former student by the girl's parents and later by her former boyfriend, Sharp met with then-Associate Superintendent Charles Young, school district attorney Chad Graff of the firm Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost and a union representative to hear the results of a three-month long investigation conducted by Graff on behalf of the district.
In a four-page summary of the probe, the law firm said it was "unable to conclude by preponderance of the evidence that any sexual harassment occurred at any point in question." And, the summary concluded, "We found the District complied with its responsibilities concerning the allegations."
To Sharp, a teacher in his mid-40s who has taught at Paly since 2004, it was a complete exoneration, according to his attorney, Jim Walsh. (Sharp declined to be interviewed for this story.)
"Mr. Sharp, a well-respected and experienced teacher at Palo Alto High School, has been the victim of false rumors and accusations. Baseless accusations of a former student's ex-boyfriend led to an unnecessary investigation, which then exonerated Mr. Sharp," Walsh wrote in an email to the Weekly on Sept. 9.
Walsh added in an email this week that Sharp was told on Jun 11 by both Graff and Young that it was then a closed matter.
But what Sharp couldn't have known that day was that the district's other primary law firm, Lozano Smith, would within weeks arrive at the opposite conclusion from Graff and issue Sharp a stinging disciplinary letter.
The district's "Notice of Unprofessional Conduct," dated July 21 and signed by Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers, stated that it was more likely than not that Sharp engaged in "grooming" activities with the student that "facilitated the consummation of a sexual relationship soon after graduation."
"The evidence leads us to conclude," the two-page notice said, "that the allegations have greater credibility than your denial."
"You have failed to meet your obligations to provide students with a safe educational environment and have exploited your position of power to establish the basis for a sexual/romantic relationship with a former student. Moreover, your behavior may have created a hostile environment for this and other students, negatively impacting students and may constitute a violation of the District's prohibition of sexual harassment."
The letter went on to direct Sharp to cease the conduct and comply with five "directives," including behaving professionally, maintaining a professional distance when interacting with students, not meeting female students off campus, limiting meetings with female students on campus to visible settings and not engaging in inappropriate relationships with students and/or former students.
"Should you fail to comply fully with the directives detailed above, the District may take other disciplinary actions against you, up to and including dismissal," the letter said.
Sharp, who was listed in district records last year as an 80 percent time teacher, did not return to the classroom with the start of school in August, and sources say he is currently on a paid leave of absence. Superintendent Max McGee confirmed Sharp is still on the district payroll but declined to characterize the current status of his employment.
The confusion created by the conflicting conclusions reached by the district's two law firms is but one of many twists and turns of a case that included a police investigation, two uncoordinated district inquiries and internal disagreements about how the matter should be handled.
A three-month investigation by the Palo Alto Weekly also has revealed basic internal misunderstandings of the district's legal obligations, district policies and appropriate standards of proof. It has also raised questions as to the actions and impartiality of Graff and the Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost law firm, which, according to the district, was paid approximately $50,000 for an investigation whose key conclusions the district appeared to reject in its statement of findings in the disciplinary letter.
Graff and his firm have been at the forefront of the district's controversial dealings with the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, including two Title IX OCR investigations that remain open, one at Paly that OCR initiated in the wake of student-publication Verde Magazine's 2013 series on a "rape culture" and one at Gunn in response to a parent complaint about the school's handling of a sexual harassment case there.
Graff was also the attorney who worked most closely with the school board in June and July 2014, to research and prepare a letter, resolution and supporting documents that strongly criticized Office for Civil Rights investigative practices.
The Weekly obtained copies of documents relating to the Sharp matter through a series of Public Records Act requests of the school district beginning on June 19, after being contacted by the former boyfriend of the student. Before the district provided the primary documents, including the Graff report and investigative notes of Bowers, it gave Sharp and the student time to seek a court order blocking their release. Neither took such action. According to Walsh, however, Sharp had no idea at the time that a Notice of Unprofessional Conduct was in the offing.
The allegations against Sharp were first brought to the district's attention on Sept. 22, 2014, by the parents of "Lauren" (the student's name was changed to protect her privacy), who turned 18 during her senior year. They informed Paly Assistant Principal Kathie Laurence that Lauren had told them of her consensual sexual relationship with Sharp, which had commenced a week after her graduation, according to documents provided by the district.
The parents later told Graff that Lauren said she disclosed the relationship to them because her former boyfriend, "Sean" (the student's name was changed to protect his privacy), with whom they were still friendly, had "threatened to tell them if she did not," according to the Graff report.
The parents said they wanted the matter addressed with as much sensitivity for their daughter as possible while still trying to prevent future similar instances of teachers becoming involved with students, Bowers' notes state. They also asked that Lauren not be contacted and that they be notified if it was necessary to interview her.
In Lauren's senior year, the parents said, Sharp had become her mentor. She had started spending time with him outside of school to "work on various things" before the school year ended, Bowers' notes state.
Through interviews with Sharp, Lauren, her parents and Lauren's former boyfriend by Bowers and attorneys with Fagen, Friedman & Fulfrost, a conflicting picture emerges of the relationship that eventually led to Sharp's discipline.
Sharp denied that a sexual relationship with Lauren had ever transpired. He said that Lauren had been in his classes twice and he had worked with her on her writing, as he does with other students. He also shared his own writings with her, according to Bowers' notes from an Oct. 13 meeting of Sharp, Paly Principal Kim Diorio, Bowers and a representative from the California Teachers Association. Sharp said he and Lauren had met a few times over the summer and had socialized in public meeting for meals and coffee, he said but there was "no inappropriate relationship," and contact between them had since ended.
To Graff, whose investigation was conducted earlier this year, Sharp recalled Lauren as "outgoing" and as having a "lively personality," according to Graff's 13-page report, which was released by the district to the Weekly. Sharp recalled the subject matter she was interested in in his classes and what she excelled in but said he did not remember specifics about her work, the report notes. Her parents and one other student also recalled that Sharp gave Lauren feedback that they described as "distinctively glowing," according to the report.
Sharp did remember helping Lauren carry bagels from her car to a lunch-time club meeting on multiple occasions but said he had no memory of personally emailing her while she was a student or spending time alone with her in either his classroom or off campus, according to Graff's report.
For her part, Lauren was insistent that nothing ever occurred while she was a student to make her feel "threatened, objectified or unsafe," and she stated unequivocally that "at no time did Sharp act inappropriately toward her while she was a student," the report said.
Lauren would neither "admit nor deny" that she and Sharp had a sexual relationship after graduation and also "strongly and repeatedly objected to this line of questioning as beyond the District's interest and an invasion of her personal privacy," Graff's report stated.
A friend of Lauren told the lawyers that she saw Lauren and Sharp get coffee together, Sharp touch her arm lightly during an interaction at school, heard Lauren "inquiring as a friend about a potential relationship with an older person near the end of senior year" and saw her reviewing guidelines on sexual harassment "that seemed to be in the context of reviewing when such a relationship may be permissible" all actions that took on greater meaning in hindsight, according to the Graff report.
According to Lauren's parents, their daughter and Sharp had "colluded in keeping [the alleged relationship a secret," Bowers' notes state. What was concerning to the parents was that "they were told that there have been other instances in previous years. Don't want it to happen again," state Bowers' notes, which also included a Sept. 26 meeting of the parents with Diorio and Bowers.
In her interview with Graff, Lauren expressed frustration at her parents' and former boyfriend's involvement, especially at the former boyfriend's and other students' roles in allegedly spreading rumors about the relationship, the report notes. She asked the lawyers to "consider the source of the rumor-making and the allegations."
Under the law and district policies called Uniform Complaint Procedures (UCP) (See "Responding to sexual harassment: What the law says"), the parents' complaint should have been handled within a detailed investigative framework that requires an impartial investigation, written findings of fact and conclusions that must be completed in 60 days and shared with the complainant (in this case Lauren's parents). If the investigation finds a need for it, trainings of staff and/or students can also be required. UCP policies also require that complaints be logged in a public file (without identifying details).
These procedures were not followed in this case when the parents made their complaint, according to McGee, because the parents asked that Lauren not be contacted. State and federal law and district policies, however, do not contain such an exception even in cases where a complainant prefers there not be an investigation because policies are intended not simply to protect victims but also to ascertain if others might have been harmed or if a hostile environment was created, and if trainings may be necessary.
Instead, McGee said, the district treated the complaint as a personnel matter and had Bowers investigate.
The district notified police, which conducted an investigation that was closed last month after finding no evidence of a crime, in part because Lauren was over 18 at all times of the alleged relationship, according to police spokesman Lt. Zach Perron.
Even before Bowers contacted Sharp for the personnel investigation, Sharp emailed Diorio on Sept. 26, 2014, the same day Lauren's parents met with Diorio and Bowers. He wrote that he "heard a story about" himself that she had also heard from a parent, according to emails released to the Weekly by the district.
"The only problem is that, like a game of telephone, it's not accurate," Sharp wrote, asking to talk further with Diorio in person.
Sharp expected he would meet with Diorio alone, but Diorio set up a meeting that included Bowers.
According to an Oct. 7, 2014, email to Diorio, Sharp indicated his discomfort at Bowers' inclusion. He then asked a representative of the California Teachers Association to join him at the meeting.
During this time, emails provided to the Weekly indicate, Diorio repeatedly asked for Sharp to be placed on paid administrative leave while Bowers' investigation moved forward, but she was rebuffed by Bowers.
"Still feeling like this teacher should be on paid leave, but I guess that's Scott's call," she emailed McGee on Oct. 7.
(Diorio declined to speak with the Weekly about Sharp or the investigation.)
Bowers, Diorio, Sharp and a representative from the California Teachers Association finally met on Oct. 13, 2014. Sharp denied acting inappropriately.
"Kevin feels he is extending himself to treat kids as people," Bowers wrote in his notes from the meeting. "Would never have extended himself for students as he did with (Lauren) if the to (sic) help was going to be misconstrued."
A month later, in November, Diorio reached out to Bowers for an update.
"Can we touch base quickly during the principals meeting tomorrow?" Diorio emailed Bowers on Nov. 3. "Do you have an update on KS?" She also alluded to concerns of Shirley Tokheim, the English department Instructional Supervisor and Sharp's immediate supervisor.
On Dec. 12, Diorio emailed Bowers to report on a call from a parent expressing concern about an unspecified "inappropriate movie" Sharp allegedly showed in class. She also asked Bowers if he had talked to Sharp and "put something in his file."
Bowers response later that day suggested that the personnel investigation was closed. The "district is not in a position to put anything in his file. We only have hearsay to go on. Sharp denied it and the former student will not talk with us," Bowers said in his email.
Lauren told the Weekly, however, that she became aware of the investigation in October 2014 from friends and actively tried to give a statement. She recalls sending emails, she believes, to Diorio and McGee, at least once in October 2014 stating that Sharp "had done absolutely nothing wrong" and offering to talk further. She said she was "horrified at the district's failure to look into my side of the story." She eventually gave her version of events in April or May in a phone conversation with an attorney with the Fagen Friedman law firm.
Bowers prepared no written summary report of his findings and conclusions, nor did Lauren's parents receive a report on the outcome of their complaint, as required by the district's Uniform Complaint Procedures policy (until finally presented with one on June 23 by Graff). (See "Responding to sexual harassment: What the law says.")
In February, Bowers' notes indicate he re-opened his investigation and interviewed three English teachers and two counselors between Feb. 10 and Feb. 25. He told the Weekly this was prompted by a former student's reports of rumors and concerns about Sharp after winter break.
Then, on Feb. 23, Diorio received a lengthy email about Sharp from Sean also a 2014 Paly graduate and a current college student, like Lauren an email that would change the course of the district's handling of the case.
Sean alerted Diorio to what he "perceive(d) as a severe failure of Paly's administration" namely, keeping Sharp in the classroom despite being aware of the sexual-harassment allegations made against him months before.
Sean recounted the evolution of the relationship from his point of view, describing what he saw as Sharp's efforts to "groom" Lauren beginning in January 2014 while Sean and Lauren were still dating. Grooming behavior is defined by the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights as "a desensitization strategy common in adult educator sexual misconduct." (See "Timeline of the investigation")
Sean expressed frustration that the adults in the situation, in his eyes, failed to take prompt and effective measures to address the allegations.
"It seems to me that when a sexual/romantic relationship is alleged to have occurred just a week after a student's graduation, it is very likely that that teacher was fostering an inappropriate relationship well beforehand with the intent for it to turn into something more," he later told the Weekly.
In his email to Diorio, Sean wrote that "from an outside perspective the district's response to this distressing revelation seems more like an effort to keep things quiet than to create a healthy environment for students."
He asked if there are policies in place that prohibit a post-graduation student-teacher relationship and urged the creation of a "publicly stated policy change regarding what sorts of interactions between students and teachers the district condones."
Sean's email seemed to reignite Diorio's concerns about having Sharp on campus. The same day, she emailed Bowers, McGee and Young to repeat her desire to put Sharp on administrative leave and "conduct a formal investigation by an outside party."
Two days later, on Feb. 25, according to legal billing records, Bowers and Young held a conference call with Fagen Friedman attorney Graff that appeared to set in motion another investigation of Sharp, this one apparently designed to meet the requirements of the district's Uniform Complaint Procedures and of federal civil-rights law Title IX.
As Graff and another Fagen Friedman attorney, Maria Asturias, geared up to conduct interviews and a full investigation, Bowers provided them with all of his notes as well as something that inexplicably was never referenced in Graff's final report: screen shots of text messages between Lauren and Sean that Sean had saved on his cellphone.
One of the bigger mysteries in the school district's reporting on the allegations against Sharp is the lack of any mention of the text messages between Lauren and Sean messages that strongly suggest that Lauren had more than a mentor-mentee relationship with Sharp.
The texts are striking because Sharp had denied to Bowers and, later, to Graff, that a romantic relationship had developed with Lauren.
Sean gave Bowers copies of the screen shots on March 10, after meeting with Bowers and Young a week earlier, emails show. Bowers told the Weekly that he forwarded them on to Graff.
Among the texts, which Sean provided to the Weekly and the Weekly authenticated by examining them on Sean's cellphone and confirming that the other phone number was that of Lauren's cellphone: In June 2014, just after Sean said he found out about the alleged relationship, he texted Lauren: "Normal 43 year old men do not want to pursue a relationship with an 18 year old woman."
Lauren wrote back: "It's a weird situation and I've acknowledged it ... I'm being cautious and taking into full consideration all the possible negative consequences."
The next day, June 23, she wrote to Sean to tell him it was OK if he wanted to talk to someone about what was going on.
"It's Kevin's own choice to f--- his life over, and I just want you to feel better," Lauren wrote.
The next day, on June 24, she wrote that she was seeing Sharp that night.
Other texts showed Sean and Lauren messaging each other about telling their parents about Lauren's relationship with Sharp and their mutual feelings about it and concern for each other.
The text messages were significant because they constituted the only physical evidence in an investigation that was otherwise made up entirely of conflicting statements of Sharp, Lauren, Lauren's parents and Sean.
Growing impatient with what he described as a "lack of momentum" in the case, on March 22 Sean took his story directly to McGee and all five school board members. He wrote that current Paly students had approached him to ask whether or not the rumors circulating were true "because they want to know if they should feel safe in his class." He reiterated that friends with information whose names he'd previously given to the district had not been contacted.
"Is the district really attempting to gather all the information it can?" he asked.
Only the board's newest members, Ken Dauber and Terry Godfrey, responded to Sean's email, he said. Dauber also eventually met with him in person.
"No student should feel any trepidation about stepping onto campus to take full advantage of the education available to her," Godfrey wrote in an email the next morning. "I really appreciate that you're willing to step up and speak out."
In addition to the text messages, another piece missing from the Graff report was any mention of an allegation against Sharp made to Paly administrators by a student in 2007. Evidence of any past instances of unlawful discrimination or other misconduct are among the factors that the district's Uniform Complaint Procedures indicate may be considered in a subsequent matter.
Bowers' notes and documents from the 2007 matter, provided to the Weekly by the district, include a memo from then Dean of Students Jerry Berkson stating the student reported that Sharp had acted inappropriately with two other students. The student's report raised sufficient concerns that the police were contacted.
Included in the documents was a summary of a telephone conversation with Perron, the detective who investigated the case at the time, dated March 18, 2007. The summary, whose author is not identified but Perron remembered as being either Berkson or Principal Scotty Laurence, describes Perron's conclusions that while there was behavior that raised concerns, there was no evidence of a crime.
According to the summary, police determined that at about 8 p.m. Sharp watched two movies with current and past humanities students. After midnight, according to the notes, Sharp went to a student's house to watch a third movie and then "drove some students to a student's house," "went inside house with kids" and "left after 10 to 15 minutes." A list of 11 items under a section entitled "Boundaries/Concerns" included "did not run it by supervisors," "did not invite all of the students," "appearance and perceptions of impropriety," "giving the kids a ride home," "has taken kids to a Buddhist temple in Mountain View to meditate" and "some of the kids smoked pot before the movies."
Palo Alto police eventually closed its investigation into the 2007 allegations, Perron told the Weekly, and Bowers said that no personnel action was taken with Sharp.
The Graff report's conclusions, written up in early June, were far from clear.
On the one hand it stated: "A credible strong suspicion that a sexual relationship may have occurred soon after graduation, and a credible strong suspicion there may have been behavior or interactions that desensitized the student while she was a student to the potential of a future sexual relationship, raise serious concerns that justify continued proactive and preventative work by the District in this area."
But in making its judgment on whether it was more likely than not that these things transpired (the "preponderance of evidence standard"), the report says: "...it is not possible for us to reach a definitive conclusion regarding the nature of (Sharp's) relationship with (Lauren) after graduation. (Lauren's) strong reactions to our questions concerning the relationship between them, and her lack of denial of a sexual relationship after graduation, coupled with Parents' and (Sean's) credible and concerned reports that (Lauren) admitted a sexual relationship to them, create strong suspicions that an apparently consensual relationship may have occurred after graduation. (Sharp's) descriptions of their relationship seemed overly formal, and he denied even friendly interactions that were credibly observed by students and reported by Parents and students. (Lauren) however, would not confirm or deny that a sexual relationship ever happened, and (Sharp) denied that a romantic relationship ever formed. Accordingly, we do not have sufficient direct evidence to conclude that a sexual relationship transpired."
"...we are left with a credible strong suspicion that behavior between (Sharp) and (Lauren) was more friendly than either admitted during interviews, but the preponderance of the evidence does not support a conclusion that any behavior rose to a level of sexual harassment of (Lauren) or unwelcome behavior during the time she was a student."
The Graff report also contained criticism of Paly principal Diorio, although it did not mention her by name. "Based on the initial allegation, administrators considered a very serious consequence paid leave that ultimately was not warranted by available factual evidence, and additional steps were available, such as increased observations and communications with the teacher."
"Paly and the District must be prepared to take proactive, responsive steps to address and short-circuit rumors and enhance efforts to educate students and staff on the prevention and potential damage of rumors."
It is not clear how or when district officials decided to reverse the Graff report's conclusions and instead adopt a position that the preponderance of the evidence showed that Sharp did exploit his "position of power as a teacher to establish the basis for a sexual/romantic relationship with a former student."
According to Graff's billing records, he finalized his full 13-page report, labeled as attorney-client privileged, on June 2 and a shorter four-page summary on June 4. He briefed the school board on the results of his investigation via telephone at a closed session board meeting on June 9. Two days later, he met with Sharp to present him with the findings and two weeks later, on June 23, did the same with Lauren's parents.
Meanwhile, the district's primary law firm, Lozano Smith, prepared the July 21 Notice of Unprofessional Conduct to be issued to Sharp containing conclusions that conflicted with those of the Graff report.
McGee, Bowers and Louis Lozano, the partner overseeing his firm's work with the district, all declined to comment on when, how, why or who made the decision to issue the findings in the Unprofessional Conduct letter to Sharp. Bowers told the Weekly the "assessment of that didn't come through my office" and was done by the Lozano firm.
What is clear is that there was little or no communication or coordination between the two law firms. Lozano told the Weekly he didn't know about the Graff investigation or report until June 19, when the Weekly made its first Public Records Act request for all investigative documents. That was after the report had been completed and the results communicated to Sharp.
McGee told the Weekly this week that Lozano wasn't told about the Graff investigation because it wasn't a personnel matter and "it's not common practice to tell one law firm about another law firm's work." He said the Graff report was shared with Lozano once he was asked to help write the discipline letter to Sharp.
McGee and Bowers had no explanation for why the text messages were not mentioned in the report prepared by Graff. Graff and the Fagen Friedman firm declined to answer any questions about the investigation, referring inquiries to McGee. Even though Bowers had received the text messages from Sean in March, McGee told the Weekly he personally didn't learn about them until shortly before school started in August, and emails suggest the school board first saw them at their Aug. 25 meeting.
On Sept. 16, Dauber emailed McGee to urge him to amend the Graff report to include the text messages, a request McGee rejected.
"In my view," Dauber wrote, "your decision not to amend the Graff (Title IX) Report to consider all the evidence and weigh it accordingly leaves the district vulnerable to the charge that there is an unaddressed hostile environment at Paly that may violate Title IX," Dauber wrote. "This is because the district has concluded in the discipline letter that (Sharp) likely engaged in grooming, which clearly constitutes sexual harassment."
Dauber also expressed a "deep concern" that the discipline notice to Sharp "contradicts" the conclusions of the Graff report.
"The disciplinary letter concludes by a preponderance of the evidence ('the allegations have greater credibility than your denial') that (Sharp) did engage in grooming behavior of a student at Paly and that this grooming behavior 'facilitated the consummation of a sexual relationship soon after graduation,'" Dauber wrote. "That letter further concludes that (Sharp) "failed to meet (his) obligations to provide students with a safe educational environment."
"This conclusion (which seems to me well-supported) directly contradicts the Graff (Title IX) Report, which concludes that there is a not a preponderance of the evidence that (Sharp) either groomed the student prior to graduation, or had sex with her afterwards."
Dauber also criticized the district's initial response to the parents' complaint last fall, noting that there was no Title IX investigation at the time, and "no steps were taken to determine whether a hostile environment was created or whether any individual or systemic remedies might be required."
Within a few hours, McGee responded, writing that he "respectfully" disagreed with several of Dauber's conclusions. He declined Dauber's request to amend the report because "a majority of the Board has not directed me to do so."
In an interview with the Weekly, McGee said he didn't see the conclusions in Graff's Title IX report conflicting with the district's disciplinary letter to Sharp.
"It's not 'either or,' it's 'both and,'" McGee said. "I think the Title IX report had some valid recommendations and the disciplinary (letter), there was a rationale for that and that's word for word in the letter there. I don't think you have to pick either or."
"We stand by both," he added. "I think both were important."
Paly Principal Kim Diorio said in light of the bigger picture at Paly in the last few years the publication of Verde Magazine's "rape culture" series, the resignation of former principal Phil Winston following a sexual harassment investigation, the opening of an Office for Civil Rights investigation into sexual harassment the school is due for more Title IX training and education.
"We just need to do more as a system and have hard conversations," she told the Weekly.
Diorio said she is currently working with McGee to develop specific Title IX training for Paly teachers and classified staff. She said they're considering an online course or using new "learning strands" monthly meetings for teachers to dive deeper into campus issues ranging from homework to Title IX.
The school district as a whole is beginning to implement this fall increased training and education for staff around sexual harassment and assault, appropriate conduct between teachers and students and grooming behavior. On Sept. 24, Dora Dome, an Oakland attorney who provided the district's sexual-harassment training last year, led a training with the district's entire administrative team titled "Investigating Discriminatory Harassment Complaints," according to McGee.
This Tuesday, Oct. 6, Dome led a second session with all K-12 administrators called, "Talking to Staff about Appropriate Boundaries with Students." McGee said one of the high school principals suggested doing the same training with all high school faculty.
In a Sept. 23 meeting with high school principals, assistant principals and all of the instructional supervisors from the middle and high schools, McGee also spent time talking about sexual-harassment prevention, unbalanced sexual relationships, desensitizing behavior and the Office for Civil Rights' code of conduct, he said. An opening address that McGee is set to give at a districtwide professional development day today (Oct. 9) will also address these issues, McGee said.
At the start of this school year, Paly students received brief information about appropriate student-teacher boundaries during a Powerpoint presentation from Eric Bloom, the school climate TOSA (teacher on special assignment). One slide, titled "Student/Adult Sexual Harassment," included four bullet points on the subject, including, "creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational environment."
The presentation, sandwiched by other presentations on emergency preparedness and academic integrity, also covered student-to-student sexual harassment, rape myths, bullying and information about how to be upstanders.
"It's just one lesson out of the 180 days they're here with us," Diorio said. "We've done a lot of work with trying to help teachers feel more comfortable having these kind of courageous conversations in their classes and, if not through regular classroom curriculum, finding those teachable moments," she said.
The school board's policy-review committee will also this year consider a new, stricter policy around teacher-student relationships. The two board members who serve on this committee, Dauber and Vice President Heidi Emberling, first proposed at a May 5 meeting that the district amend its professional standards policy to prohibit all romantic or sexual relationships between teachers and students for a period of time after graduation to address the potential creation of a hostile educational environment for classmates or friends of an involved student.
Harold Freiman, one of the district's attorneys, attended the May meeting via speaker phone. He responded that there could be some "constitutional issues" around limiting relationships after graduation but noted that "there is always a concern about relationships that suddenly blossom immediately after somebody graduates."
Dauber asked at the board policy-review committee's Sept. 28 meeting that the committee consider at its next meeting two changes to the district's sexual harassment policy: an "anti-grooming" policy and a policy to ensure that the district's Title IX coordinator and related staff have training in Title IX's requirements and investigation procedures.
One of his proposed amendments would be to add grooming to the existing policy's list of prohibited behaviors that may constitute sexual harassment.
Emberling said at the same meeting that she and McGee will consider Dauber's proposals for the committee's next agenda.
School board President Melissa Baten Caswell, Emberling, Godfrey and trustee Camille Townsend declined interview requests for this story, referring them to McGee. Dauber expressed views that he also shared in his September email to McGee.
Where the Sharp case goes from here is unclear. McGee would not say whether Sharp will resume teaching, and if so, at what grade level. Emails show he was granted a reduction to 60 percent time for this school year, but that was prior to the issuance of the discipline letter.
OCR recently asked the district for documents pertaining to the case, according to a oblique announcement made by McGee at the Sept. 28 board meeting, so further scrutiny is possible.
Meanwhile McGee and the board are in the middle of a search for a newly created position of inside general counsel, with the intention of having that person oversee all compliance matters and manage the more limited use of outside legal firms.
Publisher Bill Johnson and Editor Jocelyn Dong contributed to this report.