Parents and teacher union leaders are questioning whether an “independent investigator” hired to examine claims of mismanagement at the Stanislaus Military Academy is truly independent.
The investigation follows numerous claims that students were injured, sexually abused, and even committed suicide due to poor leadership at the academy.
Stanislaus County Office of Education Superintendent first said two weeks ago that an independent, external investigation had begun. It was later confirmed by TurlockCityNews.com that the person hired to conduct the investigation is Pleasanton paralegal Kelsey Olson.
SCOE Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services Susan Rich says Olson was hired by SCOE’s legal firm, Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo (AALRR), which has experience working with public sector clients. AALRR represents more than half of the school districts in California.
The controversy, however, is that Olson is also employed by AALRR. Olson works at the same Pleasanton office as SCOE General Counsel Chesley D. Quaid, an AALRR lawyer.
Frances Sanchez, a parent of a former SMA student who she says was injured by misdeeds at the school, is frustrated with the hiring.
When Sanchez filed a formal complaint, alleging an SMA drill sergeant caused her son Reece to break his wrist and suffer a minor head injury after the drill sergeant shook a table Reece was laying on while he was sick, she said she was promised a independent investigation.
“The district gave me her (Olson) and I thought she would be fair for my son, but I really don’t trust anyone that school has representing them,” she said.
Sanchez says she is now working on getting her son a truly independent lawyer.
Rich says that Olson is an independent, external investigator, despite ties to SCOE through her employer.
“We use the word external in that she (Olson) does not work here (physically in SCOE offices),” said Rich.
Rich explained that normally SCOE Human Resources Director Barbara Tanner would handle such investigations.
“Olson is much farther removed, purposefully, than it would normally be,” she said.
Olson is a first-year associate and a former paralegal for AALRR. She passed the bar exam to practice law in December of 2012.
“I don’t know how else we could be more external,” said Rich. “Olson is a kind of add-on position. She absolutely doesn’t know anyone involved in the investigation.”
Pursuant to California Education Code, the California Department of Education could potentially be brought in as an independent, external investigative service to look into the plethora of allegations at SMA, but it is likely specific formal complaints must be filed.
Under the “Safe Place to Learn Act” the CDE can use an investigation to assess whether local educational agencies have adopted effective policies to reduce campus discrimination, harassment, violence, intimidation and bullying.
That's the sort of investigation that needs to occur, said California School Employees Association Representative Kyle Harvey.
“It is a total sham to call this an external investigation. It just shows you that they are not really serious about these allegations. To them it is just a public relations front,” Harvey said.
“They have a serious mess at SMA and they are simply trying to quiet things down by saying they have an external investigation, but anyone can see this is anything but. … The complete lack of respect for the parents, teachers and employees is a pattern we’ve seen at SMA. Whenever anyone speaks up they get dealt with retaliation.”
Part 1: Parents: Mismanagement at Turlock's Stanislaus Military Academy Led to Suicide, Injuries, Retaliation
Part 2: SCOE Launches Independent Investigation into Stanislaus Military Academy Mismanagement
Part 3: “Culture of Fear” at SMA Leaves Parents In Fear of Retaliation
Watch the video news coverage from Tim Daly at News10/KXTV at the link below:
"Military high school under fire after suicide"