On Monday morning, Superintendent Winfred Roberson held a rare school district press conference, mainly to make sure the media had all of the information and to request that the media not seek out staff and students on the Harper Junior High Campus.
While the superintendent clarified some information, mostly the information was a rehash of what had already been released.
Superintendent Roberson noted that “this has been a difficult time for the Davis Joint Unified School District” but emphasized “that Davis schools along with our employees have built a tradition of academic excellence and choice programs. We are not defined by this single incident. In classrooms right now hundreds of dedicated and nurturing teachers are working on behalf of students.
“I have received confirmation from the Davis Police Department that Mr. John O’Brien, a teacher at Harper Junior High, was arrested Friday,” he said. “I want to underscore that to the best of our knowledge, the alleged events that led to the arrest did not occur on a school campus and the criminal case remains strictly a police matter. I cannot and will not comment on those details.
“In reference to our internal school district investigation, the Board of Education has begun dismissal proceedings with the intent of terminating Mr. O’Brien’s employment,” Mr. Roberson continued. “The details of any internal personnel investigation are confidential to protect privacy of those involved. They generally involve a careful examination of all aspects of professional conduct. I am confident that we responded appropriately based on the information from our own investigation.”
He stated, “As a result of the Board of Education’s decision, the employee is now on unpaid administrative leave, pending dismissal proceedings with the California Commission on Professional Competence.
“While student safety is always our number one priority, it is unfortunate that this incident is what captures the most public attention,” he added. “However, it is equally important for our community to understand the good work happening every day in Davis schools. This year we are hard at work implementing our district’s strategic plan and Local Control Accountability Plan. I am proud of what we do each day for our students, and I commend the professional and talented DJUSD employees who make it all possible.”
Superintendent Roberson said they became aware of the issue on September 17, 2014. “At that time we proceeded with due process, and conducted an internal investigation,” he said, noting that they take these matters very seriously. At that time, the employee was “placed on paid administrative leave,” he said, and noted “we want to make sure that we keep our students safe.
“Employee personnel matters remain confidential,” he said. “Our internal investigations always remain private in order to protect all of those involved. In this situation, we were made aware of an arrest and that information became public and we wanted to make sure that we were communicating to community members.”
Superintendent Roberson was asked if O’Brien were found innocent, would he get his job back. He responded, “I can’t speak to that, that’s the California Commission on teaching competence. That’s a whole separate process. That’s part of the due process and a determination will be made at that time.
“We believe that we responded appropriately based upon the information that we found in our internal investigation,” he stated. He said that the District did not necessarily move quickly but, rather, “we moved appropriately within the timelines of when we were made aware of the allegations. We moved right away to conduct an internal investigation and at that time Mr. O’Brien was placed on paid administrative leave which is customary for his protection, as well as others, to give us time to conduct due process.”
Mr. O’Brien has been an employee of the district for approximately 15 years.
The superintendent said that what is taking place in the criminal investigation is separate from what the district is doing. They conducted a separate internal investigation and their process is not parallel to the criminal investigation.
Meanwhile, the Vanguard has learned more details about the relationship between John O’Brien, 40, and his 16-year-old alleged victim. The police indicated that Mr. O’Brien is suspected of inappropriately touching the boy over his clothing. He had befriended the victim and served as his mentor.
One source told the Vanguard that there was a complaint about a year ago, but nothing come of the incident and the young man and his friend denied that anything inappropriate had occurred.
The alleged victim here was a troubled young man who had developed a drug problem and had been sent away for rehab. A source told the Vanguard that it may have been the efforts of the teacher to get the alleged victim help that instigated the complaint.
Mr. O’Brien is charged with inappropriate touching of a minor. He was arrested and released with a notice to appear for arraignment. He is scheduled to be arraigned on February 10, 2015, at 8:30 am in Department 9.
—David M. Greenwald reporting