The superintendent of the Kern High School District announced Friday he has assumed direct administrative oversight of the district’s police department in the wake of allegations that administrators and employees improperly used the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, known as CLETS, to run background checks on students and other individuals.
In a news release issued Friday afternoon, Superintendent Bryon Schaefer responded directly to the allegations by announcing a series of steps he is taking to address concerns that laws may have been broken amid what at least one district trustee has suggested was a dysfunctional chain of command in the department.
“I take any and all allegations of illegal or inappropriate activity by KHSD employees very seriously,” Schaefer said in a statement. “These allegations have been investigated by the Kern County Sheriff’s Department and the district has been advised that further investigations may be conducted by additional law enforcement agencies.”
In addition, the school district is retaining a neutral, third-party investigator to perform an independent investigation into the allegations, Schaefer said.
“Further, the District has contracted with an independent law enforcement consulting firm to provide analysis and assistance related to the operations of the KHSD police department.”
Schaefer’s actions come just one day after board President Mike Williams told The Californian that district officials were exploring the possibility of ending the district’s access to CLETS — or even doing away with the KHSD police force altogether.
The original allegations surfaced this past week when KBAK Eyewitness News reporter and Californian columnist Jose Gaspar obtained a Sheriff’s Office investigative report. That report quoted high school district Police Chief Joe Lopeteguy as saying administrators and employees improperly used CLETS to run background checks on students.
California law strictly limits the use of the database for law enforcement purposes.
Williams told The Californian on Thursday that district trustees are asking a lot of questions, including whether there are problems within the KHSD Police Department’s chain of command and whether the district truly needs access to CLETS.
Some trustees are even questioning whether the district needs its own police force, Williams said.
“I’d say everything is on the table,” he told The Californian on Thursday. “It would be my opinion that we’re better off having our own (police department), but we’ve got to do a much better job.”
While the story broke publicly last week, some board trustees told Californian Education Reporter Harold Pierce on Thursday that they were informed two months ago about a potential misuse of CLETS, but were unable to pry details out of administrators who characterized the issue as a “personnel matter,” somehow making it off-limits to further inquiry.
But school board members deal with personnel matters on a regular basis.
Some trustees, including Phillip Peters, have suggested there has been a breakdown in communication between the administration and board members.
The original sheriff’s reports quoted KHSD staff as saying Athletics Director Stan Greene asked for some license plates to be run to keep tabs on student athletes. When Lopeteguy protested because it was illegal, Greene complained to his boss, Director of Pupil Personnel Otis Jennings, who reportedly said it had never been an issue for former district Chief Mike Collier.
The Sheriff’s Office recommended criminal misdemeanor charges against Collier and Jennings for allegedly furnishing information obtained from CLETS to a person not authorized to receive it. But the Kern County District Attorney’s office declined to prosecute citing lack of evidence.
In his statement Friday, Schaefer asked for patience as investigations into the allegations continue.
“The limitations on what information can and cannot be disclosed to the public at this time is not an effort to avoid transparency,” he said, “but are necessary steps to preserve the integrity of these extremely important investigations which will help determine what additional actions may be necessary in the future.
“I appreciate the public's patience and support as we work through these critical issues.”