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Shocking goings-on at Green Elementary School

School investigator's case reveals cracks at San Diego Unified

From Green Elementary's list of bathroom procedures
  • From Green Elementary's list of bathroom procedures

Michael Gurrieri, a former investigator for San Diego Unified School District, says district officials fired him after he found evidence that the principal at Green Elementary School in San Carlos was allegedly drinking on the job and had failed to act on reports of sexual harassment and assaults between elementary students.

On September 25, Gurrieri sued San Diego Unified as well as superintendent Cindy Marten and other staff for firing him for blowing the whistle on sexual assaults and other misconduct at district schools.

This happened in a boys’ bathroom

In May 2013, parents of a kindergarten student at Green Elementary School reported an assault on their son during school hours. The alleged incident took place in the boys’ bathroom. During that incident a student pulled another student’s pants down and then put the boy's penis inside his mouth.

A year later, May of 2014, the parents filed a complaint against the school's principal, Bruce Ferguson, for failing to act on the complaint and for not following district protocol when handling cases of sexual assault by students. The parents claimed that by burying the complaint, Ferguson created an "unsafe school environment" for their son and his fellow students.

That same month, on May 19, district officials asked newly hired investigator Gurrieri, a former police detective from Charleston, South Carolina, to look into the matter. He did.

The investigator investigated too much?

During his five-month-long investigation, Gurrieri discovered that Ferguson had known about other alleged assaults on school grounds and had failed to take any precautionary measures. Gurrieri also discovered that Ferguson was often absent from his job and allegedly abused alcohol while on the job.

Gurrieri submitted a "long and detailed report" that included examples of Ferguson's negligence as well as multiple reports of sexual assault at Green Elementary to Carmina Duran, executive director for San Diego Unified's Quality Assurance Office.

The report then made its way up the food chain, to Andra Donovan, the district's general counsel, and later to superintendent Marten.

According to Gurrieri's complaint, Donovan, Duran, and eventually Marten asked Gurrieri to remove any mention of previous incidents of sexual harassment and assault at Green Elementary as well as delete any allegations that Ferguson had failed to act on them.

Reads the complaint, "Gurrieri repeatedly objected to Duran and Donovan’s improper instructions to delete parts of his report, stating he believed such allegations were pertinent to the investigation of [the student's sexual assault] complaint that Ferguson failed to properly respond to the sexual assault, that they demonstrated a pattern of Ferguson’s negligence and failure to properly respond to allegations of sexual assault and other serious incidents involving students in the school, and demonstrated Ferguson was not acting in the best interest of the safety of his students."

The investigator attempted to convince district officials that Ferguson should be removed from the school, but, according to his complaint, his attempts were ignored. Duran and Donovan deleted portions of the report in order to protect Ferguson's job. The district then provided the edited version to the parents of the kindergarten student who was assaulted in the school bathroom.

In June of this year, the district agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the student's parents against the district for $105,000.

One month prior to the settlement, a mother of a first-grade girl filed a lawsuit after her daughter, a special-needs student, was fondled and molested by three students inside a bathroom at Green Elementary School. The alleged assault took place in May 2014, the same time that Gurrieri was conducting his investigation.

Gurrieri's investigations thwarted

Gurrieri continued to investigate reports of misconduct at district schools and Duran and Donovan continued to edit his reports.

During his investigations, Gurrieri discovered that a high-school athletics coach used tobacco products on campus and yelled and physically abused his players. According to the complaint, Gurrieri found that Duran and Donovan gave "preferential treatment" to certain staff members while refusing to investigate the claims made by non-white students.

Despite his findings, Gurrieri was met with criticism. Duran and Donovan claimed he was not meeting the standards of an internal investigator. In November 2014, Gurrieri was terminated from his position without being given a six-month evaluation or without having been written up.

Gurrieri is asking that a jury award him punitive damages as well as pay all attorneys fees.

Where's Principal Ferguson now?

Reportedly, Ferguson took a leave of absence before the end of the 2014-15 school year. He was later transferred from his job.

According to the lawsuit, “Upon information and belief, Ferguson took a second leave of absence from the district after the claim was filed....

“Upon information and belief, Ferguson is still employed by the district in a different position.”

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Comments

I am a retired middle school teacher and had 2 grandchildren who went to John Marvin Elementary in Allied Gardens which, I believe, is in the same District "area" as Green. I picked my grandchildren up at Marvin twice a week for 5 years The principal and front office at Marvin is a total joke as well. My wife, a retired teacher as well, and I worked under approximately 50 school administrators collectively during our careers. A half dozen were spectacular; a dozen or so more were competent; and the rest weren't worth a darn. The primary goals for most administrators are; don't make waves, and kiss the fanny of the person above them. Who was/is the supervisor above the former Green principal? What a surprise that the District would try to bury these issues and findings. Must be the teacher's unions :)

The entire Board at San Diego schools, including the superintendent are crooked.

sjt, good thing the membership down at Sweetwater changed, or you would have to be saying the same thing about them, eh?

It is interesting how the teachers union is always blamed when leadership is a fault, especially since the San Diego Education Association does not represent administrators. Get your facts straight folks before you start slinging mud. Herkimer, I doubt that the general public would understand the satiric tone of your final statement even with the happy face.

The teachers' union protects teachers who speak out against administrative abuse in order to advocate for their students. San Diego Unified appears to be about ready for a great purge of corrupt officials, but please don't send them to the Sweetwater District.

First of all, it's not "interesting" how the teachers union is always blamed when leadership and bad parenting is at fault. It's disgusting. Secondly, I'm well aware that the SDEA doesn't represent administrators. As far as I know no district's teachers union represents administrators. Thirdly, the mud I'm slinging is aimed directly at incompetent administrators and their supervisors. And lastly, I couldn't care less that the general public wouldn't understand my "satiric tone". For the most part, they don't understand anything. So, lighten up...we're on the same side!

Cover-ups haven't been particularly successful low these past 40 years.

I do hope that Mr. Ferguson is in a position that keeps him far away from young people.

I hope that Mr. Gurrieri's reports are taken seriously now, and that instead of being punished for delivering the truth, he will be credited for delivering the truth.

People are in an uproar over the US marine who was drummed out for trying to stop child molestation on a base in Afghanistan. It is mindblowing to think that people continue to molest children, reports are made--and the messenger is punished.

This kind of gross injustice simply cannot be tolerated.

I am sorry to differ with you, but yes, they have been successful. Sure, maybe the news gets out, but there is far too little consequence for actions.

We have come to tolerate corruption and, and too many voters don't bother to really look into the folks at the Board level that THEY vote in, and will not take up the action necessary to remove Administrators who are doing more harm than good.

Leonore...My comments were, in fact, very tongue in cheek. I agree with you completely on the importance of unions for many occupations including the teaching profession. As you clearly stated without union representation workers would be at the mercy of their heartless, bloodsucking corporate overlords; and teachers at the mercy of incompetent administrators and an uninformed public. I am very thankful to have enjoyed the negotiated benefits from my union.

During the So County school district scandals, there were those who persistently posted comments to Susan Luzzaro's pieces who always blamed "the union" for the whole thing. That was in the sense that nothing criminal had happened, it was all a plot by the teachers union to discredit the Sweetwater board and administration as a means of getting more pay and benefits. To make that claim work, you had to envision Bahnee D, our DA, going along with a union, a strange combination indeed. But a few of them, despite the outcome of convictions, fines, jail time, and removal from office, still think it was just the evil union at work. Those of who have taught in public schools probably wonder just where this powerful and dark union is. A couple times when I could have used some union help, it seemed to be weak and ineffectual. So, it is no wonder that Suzanne Marx thinks that the teachers union bailed out the principal, even though no principal is a member of that union, and in fact, is generally an opponent of the union. What I experienced as a teacher was much like that of Herkimer, in that most of the administrators were nothing very special--although they were all "legends in their own minds." The few who really stank really could drag a school down, and it isn't easy bringing a school back up that has been degraded.

Good comment, Visduh. Down in South Bay we are still dealing with administrators who let the bullies and their parents run the school and ruin the careers of teachers who stood up against them. The best method is ask good students if they have teachers who stand up to bullies. This is the way to find out which teachers are being harassed the most. There are parents who LIVE to get teachers in trouble. The job is very stressful, and good teachers are undervalued. Union has nothing to do with that fact.

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