by 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