Public reaction to revelations that Kern High School District administrators spied on students and others by tapping a law enforcement database has run from outrage to condemnation to “What else is new in this district?”
Reaction from KHSD administrators and its board of trustees, however, is an entirely different matter.
And I still have a lot of questions.
Despite my repeated attempts to talk to them about these serious allegations and how they plan to address them, no one has been willing to take questions directly other than issue a press release that raises more questions. Not a peep unless you literally chase them down.
So that’s what I did immediately after the district board called a special, closed-door meeting last month to discuss the issues.
As I wrote here three weeks ago, KHSD Police Chief Joe Lopeteguy got wind that former Chief Mike Collier and administrator Otis Jennings were obtaining information through the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, or CLETS. Lopeteguy than ordered two of his officers, Gilbert Valdez and Gerald Wyatt, to investigate how the CLETS system was being used or misused.
Lopeteguy passed on their findings to the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, which after investigating recommended misdemeanor criminal charges against Collier and Jennings for allegedly obtaining information through CLETS and furnishing it to people not authorized to receive it.
The District Attorney’s office declined to file, citing a lack of evidence. More on that coming up.
So KHSD said in its press release that it will hire an outside company, Van Dermyden Maddux of Sacramento, to come in and do a “thorough” investigation into this boondoggle.
According to the sheriff’s report, KHSD ran 246 background checks on students and employees in school year 2014-15. Among those was a RAP sheet on a special education student and an employee who had filed a workers’ comp claim. According to the Department of Justice, it’s a civil rights violation to misuse CLETS.
At last month’s special meeting, KHSD board President Mike Williams tersely announced the board took no action in closed session.
Everyone scattered. Catching up with Superintendent Bryon Schaefer, I asked him if I could talk to him regarding the investigation.
“No!” he said.
I asked him anyway: “How much will it cost?”
“I don’t know,” he replied.
OK, cut to the chase: How extensive will this investigation be? Will it be complete and transparent?
“Absolutely,” said the superintendent and not a word more.
What about concerns it will turn into a witch hunt and go after whistle blower Lopeteguy and officers Valdez and Wyatt?
“I believe our board of trustees is committed to the safety of all our kids and the well-run operation of each of our campuses,” said Schaefer, now looking a little annoyed. “I believe that they won’t stop until every question is answered.”
So here are some questions I have. To begin with, the investigation will only go where KHSD wants it to go. It is the district that is controlling the investigators. I’ve heard from more than a dozen former and current KHSD employees who swear it is a long-standing practice that goes back years.
Collier and Jennings are just two guys who got caught this time, some say. Schaefer himself was associate superintendent of personnel from 2011 until he was named superintendent in 2014, which means he was overseeing Human Resources. This is important because the sheriff’s report states that illegal requests to access CLETS go back years and those requests came from Human Resources.
Will Schaefer and the school board allow investigators to question him about past practices?
Schaefer claims he knew nothing about CLETS misuse when he was in Human Resources.
If KHSD is serious about this, it should direct investigators to question ALL people mentioned in the sheriff’s report, including Schaefer, Collier, Jennings, Athletic Director Stan Greene, Associate Superintendent Brenda Lewis, Associate Superintendent Mike Zulfa and others who no longer work at the district but were in a position to know.
My question is how long has this CLETS misuse been going on and who was involved? Was anything done to stop it? Remember that three of the key players here — Collier, Jennings and Greene — all refused to cooperate with the sheriff’s investigation and lawyered up.
Maybe they will open up under friendlier circumstances?
I asked Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green whether her office is reconsidering filing charges here.
“No, we’re not,” she said. “The statute of limitations has run out on this case.”
KHSD refused my request for the names of all individuals on whom background checks were run. A letter from the district’s outside attorney said the matter is under investigation and to the extent these records contain information obtained from CLETS, the information is exempt from public disclosure.
Hey, I didn’t ask for details. Just give me the names that were run through CLETS.
Once KHSD completes its probe, I doubt it will make it completely public. Prove me wrong.