A Palo Alto High School teacher has received $150,000 from the school district in exchange for his resignation following accusations that the teacher engaged in inappropriate behavior with a former student, according to an agreement obtained by the Weekly.
The Board of Education approved the resignation agreement for Kevin Sharp on Oct. 27, with Sharp's resignation effective Oct. 31. Superintendent Max McGee signed the agreement on Oct. 21 and Sharp on Nov. 1. The agreement states that Sharp, who was on paid sick leave this semester, would remain so through Oct. 31.
Sharp, who taught English at Paly since 2004, was the subject of a district personnel investigation and separate sexual-harassment investigation conducted by a district law firm in 2014 and 2015 into allegations that he had "groomed" a former female student to facilitate a consensual sexual relationship that began after graduation.
The allegations against Sharp were first brought to the district's attention in September 2014 by the parents of the female student. They informed Paly Assistant Principal Kathie Laurence that their daughter, who had turned 18 her senior year, had told them she engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with Sharp beginning a week after her graduation, according to documents provided by the district.
Sharp declined to be interview for a previous story on the investigations, but his attorney, Jim Walsh, called the allegations "baseless accusations" and the district investigation "unnecessary."
"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.
A July 21 formal "Notice of Unprofessional Conduct" issued by the district 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." (This conflicted with the conclusion that attorneys from district-hired firm of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost reached in their Title IX investigation that there was a not a preponderance of the evidence that Sharp cultivated a close relationship with the student prior to graduation or had a sexual relationship with her afterwards.)
"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," the Notice of Unprofessional Conduct stated. "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 directed 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.
The resignation agreement states that neither party is admitting any "wrong doing, violation of the law or breach of any agreement."
"The Parties acknowledge and agree that they are each entering into this Agreement to buy their peace and avoid further costs and expense and because Mr. Sharp had independently decided some time ago to leave the employ of the District," the agreement states.
The agreement also includes both a non-disparagement clause and a "mutual general release" that states "Mr. Sharp and the District mutually release, acquit, and forever discharge each other and their respective agents and employees, from any and all claims, expenses, debts, demands, costs, and other actions or liabilities of every nature, whether known or unknown, whether in law or in equity, which the other has had or may claim to have as a result of Mr. Sharp's employment with the district.
"The Parties agree that neither Mr. Sharp nor the District shall have the right to file any lawsuit or institute any other action or legal proceedings of any type based upon, connected with, or in any manner arising out of all claims, known or unknown against the other party, related to Mr. Sharp's employment with the District," the agreement states.
Palo Alto Unified also agreed to provide only limited information about Sharp the title of the last assignment he held, the dates of his employment, salary and number of accrued sick days if a prospective employer contacts the district.
The district did, however, report the circumstances involving Sharp to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the agreement states.