Helix High defends policies, rebuts investigator's report
By Leonel Sanchez
San Diego Union-Tribune Staff Writer
February 4, 2009

LA MESA ” In response to an investigator's findings that they did not do
enough to protect students against teacher sexual abuse, Helix High School
officials defended their actions and policies in a written report released

“Helix vehemently refutes the conclusions by (the investigator) that
Helix administrators violated the law or created a culture where
sexual misconduct by teachers was enabled,” the school said in a 24-
page response to the investigator's findings.

The La Mesa charter high school, where four former teachers have been
convicted of sex crimes involving students during the past two years, took
issue with findings of
investigator Robert Price of San Diego-based ESI
International. The investigator, who could not be reached for
comment Wednesday, was hired by the Grossmont Union High School
District last year to examine the circumstances of the four incidents
and report any systemic problems...

The first two cases involved music teachers who also served as band
directors. The other two involved teachers who were involved with the same
female student. All four are no longer working at the school.

The investigator found that employees mishandled the first complaint
former music teacher Frank Palumbo, who was convicted of
unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor in 2007 and sentenced to five years'

The investigator's report stated in October 2006 students and a parent
reported a suspicious relationship between Palumbo and a former student to
Helix employees, who conducted an “ineffective investigation” and did not
report it to police or Child Protective Services immediately as required by
state law.

The girl's father complained to police, who investigated and arrested Palumbo
in December 2006 after he had resigned from the school.

Helix administrators said they discussed the complaint with Palumbo shortly
before his resignation but didn't find evidence of child abuse.

“Spending more time with female students than male students is not child
abuse,” the school said in its report.

Helix officials denied the investigator's finding that they took no meaningful
action to prevent future cases. They said they conducted a meeting with all
faculty and staff after the first arrest to “review the unacceptable nature of Mr.
Palumbo's conduct” and make clear they would fire violators.

School officials said they held a training session to review
misconduct and consequences after the second incident involving
former music teacher Jessica Ashley Kaha
l. She pleaded guilty in 2007 to
having unlawful sexual intercourse with a 17-year-old male student.

School officials disputed the investigator's finding they didn't immediately
report the incident to authorities, saying principal Doug Smith first had to
conduct an investigation to arrive at a reasonable suspicion. Smith said he
interviewed witnesses, placed Kahal on administrative leave, contacted the
victim and his parents as well as police and Child Protective Services – all
within the same day.

Helix officials said they cooperated with the investigation but believe
Price objected to their notifying employees being interviewed of their
right to have a union representative present.
Helix officials also wanted
a representative present during interviews with witnesses.

In their response, school officials denied that administrators didn't fully
cooperate with the investigation and issued inaccurate information to the
public to minimize damage to the school's reputation.

The report didn't go into detail about the other two cases, saying the
investigator did not make any accusations of procedural failure.
business teacher Jeff Wenham
last year pleaded guilty to misdemeanor
charges of committing a lewd act in public with a 17-year-old female student
and failing to report another teacher's inappropriate relationship with a
student. That teacher is believed to be
Garry Wilcox, who was convicted
last year of having sex with the girl.

Helix hired an ethics consultant last year to develop additional
safeguards to protect students against sexual abuse by teachers and
other employees.
SD Education Report
Education and the
Culture Wars Blog
San Diego
Education Report
Education Reform
Larkins case summary
Site Map
Case Timeline
Education Reform Report
Helix High School (Charter)
Maura Larkins note: An ethics consultant?  
That's exactly what SDCOE-JPA and its
investigators need.
Daniel Puplava
Diane Crosier, Esquire
Insurance broker
Missing Tort Claim
Rodger Hartnett declaration
Robert Price

Helix High School

AIG American
International Group