Guest Commentary: Is DJUSD Capable of Its Responsibility to Protect Our Children?

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lawsuitby Matthew Deusans

(Editor’s note: the following is a submitted article by a member of the public, the views expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its board).

In January 2015, Bob Dunning editorialized a Davis Joint Unified internal email entitled “Don’t let your email become the next Davis Enterprise story.” The email from the DJUSD administration to its employees warned of the dangers of putting sensitive information in written form adding, “[m]ight sending this message harm my professional reputation among my peers, supervisors or the Davis community?”

One month later a civil suit was filed naming DJUSD as a defendant in Yolo Superior Court by the family of an autistic 6-year-old girl. The child, a Birch Lane Elementary student with limited communication abilities, was allegedly the victim of sexual abuse by a bus driver employed by the Woodland Unified School District. The complaint alleges that school officials were negligent in their duties to protect the severely impaired child. The complaint states that the perpetrator of the alleged misconduct divulged incriminating statements to Birch Lane Elementary special education provider Suzanne Curlis on February 11, 2010. The following day, Ms. Curlis emailed the former DJUSD director of special education Gay Bourguignon, the former DJUSD special education program specialist Patrick McGrew, and a supervising psychologist Jennifer Galas with her concerns about the driver’s statements and actions.

In an interview with the Davis Enterprise in February 2015, DJUSD spokeswoman Maria Clayton stated, “[w]e take allegations seriously and take swift and appropriate action, including administrative reviews and referrals to law enforcement when warranted,” in speaking to the recently filed suit.

According to the complaint obtained from the courthouse, the parents of the disabled child were never notified of the bus driver’s alleged acts of sexual abuse by Curlis, Bourguignon, McGrew, Galas, or any other DJUSD official. The complaint goes on to detail a nearly seven month delay between the DJUSD’s special education department’s awareness of the suspected child abuse and when WUSD, not the DJUSD, performed their mandatory reporting duties and notified the Davis Police Department.

Under the California Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act, all educators including aides, administrators, and supervisors are mandatory reporters of abuse. Moreover, under the California Penal Code, a mandated reporter is responsible for reporting suspicions of abuse immediately upon becoming aware of such conditions. Failure to do so is a misdemeanor.

At the end of the school year in which the parents of the allegedly abused child notified WUSD about their own growing concerns with the bus driver, DJUSD special education director Bourguignon was reclassified to a lower position of a school psychologist within the Davis schools. Later, in the summer of 2013, Mr. McGrew was promoted to DJUSD director of special education and Ms. Galas was promoted to DJUSD special education program specialist.

On the heels of the filing of the Superior Court complaint, Associate Superintendent Matt Best told the DJUSD school board, “Gay [Bourguignon] is rejoining us, and we are proud and happy to welcome her back.” This statement was made as the trustees moved to ratify Ms. Bourguignon’s new position as the principal at Patwin and Fairfield Elementary schools. She had been on leave of absence from DJUSD during the prior school year.

When speaking to the Davis Enterprise regarding the November 2014 move to terminate DJUSD teacher John O’Brian, a man accused of committing an “unwitnessed” sexual act against a student off campus, superintendent Roberson said, “I am confident that we responded appropriately based on the information from our own investigation,” and he reiterated that “student safety is always our No. 1 priority.”

In light of the serious accusations leveled against DJUSD personnel like Ms. Bourguignon in the suit and the reassignments and promotions handed out by the DJUSD administration over the recent years, the board of trustees will no doubt have some serious questions for the administration about its ability to effectively evaluate DJUSD employees in positions of power as this case unfolds.

If the case makes it to trial, it is likely that the DJUSD’s public statements about how seriously takes student’s safety will be juxtaposed against the actions, or lack thereof, by DJUSD staff in 2010.

According to the Yolo Superior Court, no trial date has yet been set. A case management conference has been scheduled for July 13th.

Matthew Deusans is a freelance writer living in Davis

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10 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Is DJUSD Capable of Its Responsibility to Protect Our Children?”

  1. Tia Will

    “On the heels of the filing of the Superior Court complaint, Associate Superintendent Matt Best told the DJUSD school board, “Gay [Bourguignon] is rejoining us, and we are proud and happy to welcome her back.” This statement was made as the trustees moved to ratify Ms. Bourguignon’s new position as the principal at Patwin and Fairfield Elementary schools. She had been on leave of absence from DJUSD during the prior school year.”

    A question about the timeline for the author. During which year was Ms. Bourguignon’s leave of absence ?  If this overlapped the time of Ms. Curtis’ email, she would not be expected to have taken any action. I am unclear of the sequence of events from your article.

     

    1. MattDeusans Post author

      Gay Bourguignon was the special education director in 2010 when her employee Ms. Curlis first notified her of the alleged misconduct by the bus driver.  At the end of the 2010-2011 school year she ceased to be the director of special education and was reclassified as a school psychologist for the district.  She left that post three years later to work for Solano County during the 2014-2015 school year.  No rational for that leave of absence is public.  She was rehired as the principal at Patwin 2 months after the parents of the child filed suit against DJUSD in 2015.  The lengthy delay (five years) between the alleged events and the filing of the civil suit is reported as being related to delays in notification of law enforcement, a stalled police investigation, and that the parents were never notified of the alleged acts.  She is named in the suit because as the director she not only was contacted by the special education teacher who suspected the alleged wrongdoing, but the management of the issue ultimately rested with her office.

      1. Tia Will

        Matt

        Thanks for the timeline. However, now I am further confused. Was not Ms.Curtis also a mandated reporter. If so, is she not obliged to report to the police, not her supervisor ?  I know that as a doctor, if I have suspicious of physical or sexual abuse, I personally am obliged to report this to the police, not to the chief of my department who is my direct supervisor. If I were to report it to her, her only obligation is to tell me to report it to the police. Can you or someone clarify this situation ?

         

        1. davisteacher

          DJUSD Administrative Regulation 5141.4:

          “When two or more mandated reporters jointly have knowledge of a known or suspected instance of child abuse or neglect, the report may be made by a member of the team selected by mutual agreement and a single report may be made and signed by the selected member of the reporting team. Any member who has knowledge that the member designated to report has failed to do so shall thereafter make the report. (Penal Code11166)”

          “Immediately or as soon as practicable after knowing or observing suspected child abuse or neglect, a mandated reporter shall make an initial report by telephone to any police department (excluding a school district police/security department), sheriff’s department, county probation department if designated by the county to receive such reports, or county welfare department. (Penal Code 11166)”

  2. Davis Progressive

    to answer the question posed in the title – no.  i think the district overblew the o-brien situation.  i think they fumbled the handling of daniel marsh.  and i think they fumbled this one too.

  3. wdf1

    This story involves at least three areas of privacy and confidentiality — legal action, personal employment issues, and personal student info (which falls under FERPA).  It will be difficult to verify much of this.

  4. gentlereader

    Anyone who has a teaching credential (even if they are not in a teaching position), is a mandated reporter. If she knew about it, she was required to report it.

    Unfortunately, the special education system in Yolo County should undergo serious review. I worked in special education for three years in Yolo County. Some of the things I saw evidence of:

    1. Children locked in rooms for “time outs”.

    2. Lack of reporting of administration of medication; i.e. paraeducators giving medication to students after being told to wait for nurse intervention without informing anyone of administration of medication (possible resulting in overdose).

    3. Staff asking to take children home during the day to do errands.

    4. Lack of leadership/ineffective and/or unavailable administration. Consistent inability to staff classrooms to legal requirements.

    5. Inability to provide speech services to children who needed them due to insufficient staff.

    6. Blatant insubordination.

    7. Teachers using physical force to “teach” students, including pushing to the ground.

    8. Students physically assaulting staff; inability or lack of interest on part of administration to address this.

    9. No curriculum for students (and I mean NO curriculum).

    10. No resources for teachers (Teachers were told to shop at garage sales/thrift stores to get materials for the classroom–we were given tables–that was it).

    I could go on. But ten is enough. I have begged people to visit our counties special education classrooms and reported what I saw as abuse/neglect to no avail. I fear for our children. I’m not surprised a child was assaulted. I’m shocked we can’t, or won’t, protect our most vulnerable.

  5. Tia Will

    davisteacher

    Thanks for taking the time to respond. Got it.

    Now, do we know if and what arrangement or agreement was made between Ms. Curtis and Ms.Bourbuignon for reporting ?
    The only reason that I seem to be dogging this is because it seems that accusations are being made, or at least implied, potentially without full information. Usually not a good strategy.

    1. Paul Thober

      It doesn’t matter what if any agreement was made between mandated reporters. Any mandated reporter who does not report is culpable.

      “Any member who has knowledge that the member designated to report has failed to do so shall thereafter make the report. (Penal Code11166)”u

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