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Letters: Moragan Questions Moraga School District Practices

A local man writes with his views on the issue of transparency within the Moraga School District.

 

Dear Editor:

I'm writing to you as a concerned parent who has lived and raised our children in Moraga for nearly 10 years due to our belief that Moraga is a wonderful, bucolic small town for our children to grow up in.  My wife and I have been very involved in Moraga through a variety of volunteer activities from extensive school volunteering to the Town of Moraga Planning Commission to Meals-on-Wheels.  We have always felt that our children are getting a tremendous education in a safe environment but over the last week, this trust has been called into question through the latest information written in the Contra Costa Times about the 1990s' sexual abuse scandal and Principal Walters not reporting these cases to law enforcement at the time.  It is with sadness that I write this letter as it has the potential for propagating a negative perception of Moraga (which can impact all Moraga citizens) but my duty and responsibility as a parent for my children's safety is paramount.

For any parent reading this, you will understand that we are, first and foremost, concerned for the safety of our children and put our trust in the superintendent, the School District Board, principals, teachers, and fellow parents to ensure their safety.  Unfortunately this trust has been seriously called into question by most importantly learning about possible inaction by Mr. Walters in reporting sexual abuse but also learning about it directly from the media (Contra Costa Times and even more impactful is that the writer is the parent of a student at a Moraga elementary school) and not proactively through the Moraga School District institution that we have trusted to proactively ensure the safety of our children.

Given that events have transpired the way they have, we are simply looking for answers as to what happened, why, and how this will not happen again to ensure our children's safety along with that of future Moraga students.  Superintendent Burns has attempted to assuage our fears and concerns through two emails to Moraga parents that describe the current policies and practices in place as well as limited information about internal investigative work that he has performed.  Unfortunately he must be bound by certain laws that limit him from disclosing more detailed information that is necessary to put us at ease.

I fully understand that we and the other parents in Moraga do not have the full story to know what to fully believe.  But as an appointed member of the Town of Moraga Planning Commission, I understand the importance of full transparency and providing insight into people's rationale for decision making that is grounded in law, policy, and, in this case, our children's safety.  We need that transparency in this case to help us rebuild the platform of trust necessary to work on the other issues our District faces such as our strategic plan and how to scholastically enable our children for the 21st century.

My wife and I along with other parents have written directly to Superintendent Burns asking for answers to our questions through a formal investigation.  Some of these questions include:

  • Why did Mr. Walters not report the sexual abuse accusations at the time to law enforcement as the law states and should misdemeanor charges be brought against Mr. Walters?
  • What other school administrators (superintendents, Board members) at the time and currently were aware of this violation of mandatory reporting and what is their culpability in this matter?
  • What are we doing as a District to ensure this doesn't happen again and how does the District proactively communicate to parents on what they are doing to ensure the safety of our children?

The intent of these questions is not too purposely harm any specific individual especially those who have dedicated their lives and volunteer efforts to education but rather to illuminate parents on the situation so we can trust the School District institution to protect our children.  Superintendent Burns has committed to a formal investigation but we are still waiting to hear the specifics of the investigation, how it will be run objectively, and when we can expect it to be completed.  In addition, there is a Moraga School District Board meeting on June 12th in which we have asked that this issue is on the agenda and the Board provides clarity for parents on the next steps in addressing this situation.

My reason for writing to you, Mr. Editor, is to help educate other parents in Moraga and the greater Lamorinda community so they too can ensure their children's safety.  In addition, I felt that this was an important issue to help other Moraga and Lamorinda citizens better understand as our towns and school districts are integrally connected together.

Regards,

Jim Obsitnik
Moraga Parent

Ryan June 07, 2012 at 05:20 AM
http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_20799532/moraga-swim-club-bans-cal-swim-coach-sex Wow
Tony Rodriguez June 07, 2012 at 06:21 AM
That is not a tenable reading of the statement, and really does a disservice to Mr. Burns.
lovelafayette June 07, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Thanks to my neighbor CI for his CCT post. His suggestion to take this issue to the Moraga Country Club is great. Email: boardofdirectors@moragacc.com Don Maddison (President) Tom Enberg (Vice President) Rick Nedell (Secretary) Ron Palmer (Treasurer) Ruth Burke, John Greenblatt, Ron Mayes, Leslie Mortimer, Dan Rego, Matt Rei, Tara Rochlin, Frank Sullivan
Chris Nicholson June 07, 2012 at 02:32 PM
I think the witch hunters here need some perspective. Walters was alerted to disturbing conduct and responded in a way that fell short of current standards and sensibilities and probably fell short of the standards (and laws!) of 1994-1996. His crimes, if any, were failures to report, not affirmative bad acts. His employers (Super / BoD) reviewed the situation and seemingly disciplined him (demoted him) and chose to not disclose full details to the public. In apparent reliance on his belief that the matter was behind him, he spent the next ~16 years delivering what has been universally described as great service to school/kids/community. His potential crimes are now moot due to statute of limitations and, in any case, did not carry heavy penalties. Is it fair/appropriate for his current bosses (Burns / new BoD) to retroactively substitute their judgment for the judgment of those in charge at the time? How can we do this when we can't let Walters rewind 16 years and make different choices of what to do with his life in the aftermath of the 94/96 events? It seems to me that the current angst should be primarily directed at the THEN supe and the THEN BoD. They are the ones who dictated how this was dealt with originally.
Debbie June 07, 2012 at 03:24 PM
Chris, you articulated what the vast majority of my Moraga friends and neighbors feel, whom by the way, have stayed off the comment stream of patch. Hindsight is easy, the hard part is refocusing on an appropriate response 16 years later with the right context. The witch hunters are also running the risk of driving out an excellent Superintendent and scaring away future candidates for fear of the Lamorinda mob, who do seem to be dominating the comment stream of patch. This story may be good for patch and the may help stave off the slow death of the CC times, but sucking up an inordinate amount of the time and resources of the school board/superintendent, as well as, proliferating community tensions will not help the quality of education in Moraga.
Nancy Lee June 07, 2012 at 03:48 PM
I have no doubt that a great many people choose not to express their opinion or give their input here or in any other local forum. You have only to see the sparse attendance of most school board or city council meetings to see that. If the majority is indeed silent and happy with the way things are being done than so be it. I see a lot of room for improvement, and this case and others bear that out IMO. What really frightens me is the constant refrain heard here ---- do not bother our beloved officials, they know what's best, they have better things to do and you're just "sucking up" time and resources by asking them to answer you. That position, again IMO, is dangerous in the extreme and probably led to the scenario in question in the first place.
2nd Generation Moraga June 07, 2012 at 03:48 PM
CN & Debbie: Absolutely right. Too many people commenting without knowing the timeline and actual facts. However, the decision made by MCC to rescind the invitation to Mrs. Cunnane to speak is one of the stupidest decisions I have ever seen. As an MCC member, I am completely dumbfounded, embarrassed, and angry, that this decision would be made (presumably) for the benefit of the membership. Wrong Wrong Wrong...
Chris Nicholson June 07, 2012 at 04:05 PM
@2ndGen: the MCC board needs to take a class on Game Theory. In what appears to have been an attempt to "stay out of it," they are now (very predictably) in the middle of it.... The witch hunters remind me very much of well meaning, but radical groups on the Cal campus (I assume they're still there) that, failing to gin up enough rage organically, quickly adopt the posture of "if you're not with us, you're against us. neutrality is guilt."
Ryan June 07, 2012 at 05:37 PM
Dear Debbie Downer, Chris, and 2nd Gen (you are probably all the same person), I wanted to provide you with a link to the CC times article that outlines the letters and establishes a timeline for those who aren't good with common sense. http://www.contracostatimes.com/bay-area-news/ci_20711256/documents-moraga-school-district-abuse-reports?source=pkg all dates according to 4 documents released on cc times: 1990, June: Witters molests 1 of many students 1994, June: STUDENT REPORTS BEING MOLESTED 1994, June: Walters calls Witters at home. Witters doesn't pick up phone. Walters takes summer off. 1994, August: Walters talks to Witters, gives Witters note from victim. Witters denies it after Walters threatens him that the victim might pursue. Not Walters calling the police, the victim might report it. Walters gives Witters copy of letter. Nothing prevents Witters from going to pick up letter writing molestation victim and driving off the cliff with her.
Ryan June 07, 2012 at 05:40 PM
1994, August: Walters tells Simonin (who denies knowledge of this) about the Witters conversation. Since the high school student "wasn't sure" she wanted to press charges, they do not call the police. A teacher kissing a student did not prompt them to call police. 1995, Mar: Correa reports to Walters that Witters kissed a student on the cheek in public, licked a students ear in public, and patted a students behind in public. 1995, Mar: Walters takes letter outlining 4 potential occurrences of molesting students and does nothing. 1996, Nov: Walters has to write letters describing what he learned in the previous 2 years. Walters acknowledges that he knew that Witters had committed a criminal act and that he did nothing. 2012, Jun: Country Club rejects molestation victim of Witters and rape victim of Correa from teaching swim clinic. Reason: Mean people said bad things about the above mentioned actions of their beloved principal. There are countless other letters from parents about witters that should of set off alarm bells. I know this because my mother wrote one describing the constant abuse he provided his students. I can't believe that you don't want to know how and why this was handled and how and why it is being so arrogantly handled now. Witters kept teaching and molesting DIRECTLY BECAUSE OF WALTERS INACTION in the face of a mountain of evidence. Sincerely, Witch Hunter
Chris Nicholson June 07, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Missing from your timeline: 1996/97: Walters' employer reviews all available facts (mostly Walters' own admissions) and disciplines him. Walters elected to accept the demotion and continue his service. AFAIK, no material facts concerning the actions of Walters pre 1997 have emerged in the past 15 years. I am not defending Walters. I think his lack of diligence and follow-up reveals bad judgment. All of that was known to his employers (who were responsible to parents and voters) as they determined his fate. Public outrage is fine, I suppose, but why not focus on the people that actually made the decisions w/r/t to Walters' punishment at the time this all went down? As an aside, when dealing with life-destroying allegations from people seemingly unwilling to confirm them to police/courts, I understand some measure of caution (this holding aside mandatory reporting laws).
Ryan June 07, 2012 at 08:07 PM
I really thought a fact based timeline would highlight the egregiousness of his actions but idiocy is passed down thru generations. I 100% agree that we should focus on those who were part of this mess 16 years ago and not the current board in place. Where I find it hard not to be upset, is the refusal of this current superintendent/board to really go above and beyond to assist in the investigations. Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it. We all deserve a history lesson from the board and why they care so deeply about making sure it never happens again. The country club decision is only going to bring more questions from people all over who will seriously wonder wtf is going on in Moraga and how they can not be appalled at what has happened. Yes it all occurred 16 years ago and no evidence has surface of any wrong doing since (but Im not giving the MSD or Walters the benefit of the doubt on that one). Moving forward, I believe the district needs to paint a very facts based picture of what they are doing to prevent more Witters and Correas and how they are ensuring that more Bill Walters cant commit more bad judgements/criminally negligible lack of action I encourage everyone to bring their spleens to vent them at the MSD meeting on the 12th or whatever that means.
2nd Generation Moraga June 07, 2012 at 09:56 PM
FYI, here is the definition of "vent your spleen": http://www.usingenglish.com/reference/idioms/vent+your+spleen.html I have not seen a single post question or excuse the egregiousness of Walter's action. I and select others are simply taking issue at directing blame and anger at the current MSD Superintendent and Board. I am 100% in agreement with you that the board should clearly describe current processes and procedures in regards to this topic. I also believe MSD would be well served to have an independent 3rd party come in and run an investigation to reassure the public that all that can be done is being done to safeguard the students. Unfortunately most of the of the posts I've read are simply hysterical regurgitation of news stories that mix up the facts, timeline, and players, and then incite more hysterics.
Jose June 07, 2012 at 10:00 PM
CN: It seems to me that your proposal perpetuates a recurring cycle of "it's not happening anymore, and it's too late to hold people accountable after all this time has passed". How is that different from the failed strategy used by various elements of the Catholic church around the world. It does keep happening, and it seems to me that always being "too late" to respond to the last one makes it more likely to keep happening. Directing our angst toward those no longer in power would almost certainly accomplish nothing. Directing our concern toward those in power NOW makes more sense. They can still take action, and the voters can respond to their actions or lack of them. Walters is still in a leadership position despite his failed leadership in a very fundamental matter of child safety. Some of us find that unacceptable and want to know why. I would also like to know who brought him back and what they knew at the time. It is right for the Board to do what it can to hold him accountable, and it is the CYA thing to do if victims attempt to hold the current Board liable for, once again, failing to take action. Also, what do you know about his "universally...great service"? What is your source? Patch?
2nd Generation Moraga June 07, 2012 at 10:16 PM
MD: "His employers (Super / BoD) reviewed the situation and seemingly disciplined him (demoted him) and chose to not disclose full details to the public." Outrage should be directed at the Superintendent and School Board in office at the time the above decision(s) were made. Walters was brought back "off the bench" (I was told out of retirement) essentially as a stop-gap when Burns moved from Principal of LP to Principal of JM. Again, this was 3 or 4 years ago - under a different Superintendent. Regarding Walter's "16 years delivering what has been universally described as great service to school/kids/community" - I can tell you that my personal experiences with him as a Principal (JM from 1980-1982) and then as a parent of a student at LP were always extremely positive. THIS DOES NOT EXCUSE or outweigh HIS INACTION in the Witters case, it simply illustrates that he has contributed positively to the district for a number of years.
DC / Lafayette June 07, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Apparently MCC has issued a public apology. I did not hear it first hand.
2nd Generation Moraga June 07, 2012 at 10:42 PM
Link to the MCC Apology: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/122264765/Apology-From-Tom-Engberg-_2_
Chris Nicholson June 07, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Maybe they can get a bundled price on classes in Game Theory and Crisis Management PR. The apology just raises more questions: (i) if you are being truthful now, then why a "cancelation" instead of a "delay?", (ii) how long ago was the clinic calendared? Was there not ample time to give the BoD a heads up since then?, (iii) when you communicated the cancelation to Kristen, did you also communicate the same rationale articulated today? If not, why not? and (iv) will each of the BoD members please confirm in writing that they had expressed no opinion or influence on the clinic other than the "official" rationale you are now putting forth? I still think they were mainly trying to stay out of the fight. I really hope they weren't picking sides.
2nd Generation Moraga June 07, 2012 at 11:02 PM
I'll spare repeating the comment I left on the "Rug" article -- suffice to say I think Mr. Engberg made this decision on his own, and needs to gracefully "retire" from his current position (it will leave him plenty of time to study up Game Theory).
Ryan June 07, 2012 at 11:40 PM
http://www.mercurynews.com/news/ci_20807152/moraga-country-club-reverses-decision-cal-swim-coach Engberg bowed to pressure from parents at LP, board members like Ruth Burke, and then caved in and cancelled. His quote that he made this decision on his own flies in the face of his email to the CC times and reeks of revisionist history. Cancelling to give the Board time so they could adjust to the potential news coverage? Seriously? Nobody on earth but MCC people knew about the clinic, there was nothing in the papers or on the news. MCC Swim Club invited her to speak about SWIMMING, not about anything else. What did the Board have to adjust to? Empathy?
2nd Generation Moraga June 07, 2012 at 11:56 PM
Ahhh yes... The secret cabal lives!
Jose June 08, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Who said that there is no such thing as bad publicity? Was that PT Barnum? Wait until ABC or CNN (with their pathetic ratings) get a hold on this growth-inducing, fetid pile of recycled burgers and fries. Tiny Moraga will suffer 2 minutes of ignomy in Akron OH and Tulsa OK. Sorry, I am just trying to keep with this week's theme of rogue pelotons and rogue dog owners. Where is Cesar when you need him? Cesar, curb these bad dog people.
Jose June 09, 2012 at 06:20 AM
Danville Express June 7: "The San Ramon Valley Unified School District has a new superintendent, and Sacramento is mourning the loss of a much-loved administrator." Seriously, what qualified individual wouldn't leave Sacramento for the fine weather and stimulating environment of the greater Bay Area. I did, in a heartbeat, 40 years ago when dinosaurs ruled the earth, and public education was free. Knowing little about him personally, I believe, I want to believe, that Mr. Burns can be a fine superintendent for MSD. By Zeus and Apollo, we know that the district does not benefit from a change in leadership unless... All I am asking is that Mr. Burns show leadership when it is called for. And, now would be a good time. Please explain why Mr. Walters was re-hired and why he continues to serve as a leader in MSD after failing to report serious sexual abuse charges, as required by law. Think hard. Whom do you and the Board serve? From an accountability standpoint, it doesn't matter that Walters might be a nice guy. From an accountability standpoint, it does matter that those responsible for failures face consequences. It is your move.
lovelafayette June 11, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Go give the school board an earful ! June 12, 2012 Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School Auditorium 1010 Camino Pablo, Moraga, CA 94556 7:30 p.m. Regular Meeting Dexter Louie, President; Charles MacNulty, Vice President Kym Leserman, Member; Dennis Kelleher, Member; Kathy Ranstrom. Member
Pat June 12, 2012 at 12:26 AM
Nice reminder to attend the mtg to THANK the School Board for the endless hours of volunteerism, and contribution to our wonderful community, for so many yrs! Most Moraga families support/trust Bruce Burns. In addition to his full time job, he is doing the best any strong leader would do, to manage through having to address circumstances from 1994. Bruce Burns has taken extra steps to explain/ensure parents re: current system for staff background checks, training, reporting expectations, & actions in place to keep children safe. He is an excellent Superintendent, leading excellent teachers. You might recall the Lafayette School district went mum on recent "Merrick case" that occurred at Stanley Middle School in Lafayette. Teachers and administrators can't talk publicly about such cases. We Moragans also embrace/support Kristin Cunanne, and believe she was brave to endure the past, and now all this misguided attention. She did not intend for Lamorinda to go crazy. Time to let her move on, and be recognized for the great leader and person she has become. Current Moraga schools/teachers are excellent. So, haters, please stop wasting the MSD/SB time and let them do their jobs - like addressing the serious funding issues for CA schools. For those unhappy w/MSD, feel free to move, and please hurry up! There is a major real estate inventory shortage in Moraga, & huge pent up demand of families that want to move in for the excellent schools & community!
Sue Haas June 12, 2012 at 01:50 AM
Did "Pat" just do what most of the good people here do when they don't want to answer difficult questions or deal with issues, tell you all to move? Wonderful solution and unfortunately representative of the misguided few who want everyone to keep thinking we live in sugarplum land.
Jose June 12, 2012 at 05:14 AM
Pat: I, too, want this problem to go away so that MSD can focus on the many difficult financial problems it faces. Financially, it seems to me that the MSD has been prudent in using its reserves and not repeating the financial mismanagement of the recent past. But, if the response to dozens of very, very serious sexual misconduct charges is public silence or stonewalling, I have reason for concern that nothing in the culture has changed, and that the problem is not behind us. How can I move on when I have no confidence that my daughter is safe at school. Twenty plus school employees appeared publicly in support of the rapist. What are they thinking? What if my daughter comes to them with a concern about inappropriate touching from a current teacher? What will be ther response?
Pat June 12, 2012 at 06:30 AM
Moribund Dave, understand your questions, especially if you are new to MSD/JM. People who attended hearing can't comment publicly, just like when Laf. Stanley staff could not comment on the Merrick case. Some were there to support the victim, others curious if they knew parties involved. None of them support the rapist's actions - despite the PR spin in articles and patch posts. I'm not one to judge without facts, but I do know most staff & teachers at JM, through lots of volunteering, and my children's time there. From own experience, if your daughter went to a teacher with any concern (from bullying to academic support needs, or any other) it would be handled as serious with support. Programs are in place for student's to share, and teachers spend many personal hours supporting anti-bullying & leadership programs, a much different climate than 1994. Bruce Burns sent multiple notices explaining current laws, background checks, training, and reporting requirements for all staff. Join the PTA Board, Site Council, or volunteer in some way, it's a great way to get to know the staff/teachers/climate, and gain confidence that you are sending your child to an excellent school. As parents, we can also use this situation to have open discussions with our children. Moraga is still considered one of the safest towns with best CA schools despite the PR campaign. Not sure where you will find a better place, but do wish you the very best in your decisions.
Pat June 12, 2012 at 06:32 AM
PS: You are also correct, MSD has been prudent in spending reserves wisely, and many parents volunteers are involved to help support/evaluate/execute the ongoing fundraising and spending. As just one recent example, a group of dedicated parents just raised 30K for the schools in a 2- day event - which will help save teacher jobs and school programs- Moraga is truly a rare community!
lovelafayette June 23, 2012 at 04:09 PM
CCT today, conviction of William Lynn for covering up child sexual abuse by Catholic priests UNDER HIS SUPERVISION, many years ago, guilty of child endangerment and conspiracy. The timelines in previous posts point to conspiracy by supervisors, Walters calling Witter instead of MPD, MPD killing the case after Witter died? Does anyone know if the decision not to charge anyone ( statute of limitations) was made by MPD or the DA? All I have read attributes the decision to MPD. MPD is part of the problem as from all accounts their investigation died when Witters died, MPD did not look for other victims of sexual abuse or charge Walters. MPD may have a conflict of interest here, they failed to investigate in 1996/7 and it is possible a DA investigation now will fault MPD, so is MPD really motivated to pursue this? Given the number of adults who have looked the other way it is possible that children are still endangered by institutional bias. Moraga parents need to file complaints with the DA asking CCC to investigate possible conspiracies and chlld endangerment against Walters/MSD/MPD. Several years ago I tried to file a police report about a criminal unlicensed contractor with Lafayette PD, the officer refused to take my report saying in HIS opinion no crime had been committed! I called the CCC DA, who charged him WITHIN 72 HOURS with felonies and obtained his guilty plea ( to lesser charges) . Moraga parents cannot let the MSD and MPD get in the way of justice, again.

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