Parent group wants better policies for teachers who mistreat students

SAN DIEGO - In the wake of two Team 10 investigations looking into allegations against local teachers, a nonprofit group is looking at an unusual step to keep children safe.

In the past month, Team 10 has looked into a Rancho Bernardo High School coach accused of bullying players, as well as a Torrey Pines Elementary School staff member accused of having girls feed him cookies and giving them toys, telling them, "We're going steady."

Those recent Team 10 investigations are two of the many cases being cited by Lisa Berlanga, executive director of San Diego United Parents for Education (UPforEd), a parent advocacy group that believes it's time for schools to take a bigger stand against staff members who bully and behave in appropriately.

"This isn't something we like to talk about. It's taboo, and we need it out in the open," said Berlanga.

On April 8, UPforEd, along with a group of parents, will present a handout before the San Diego Unified School District Board. It will include a list of guiding principles for teacher contract talks.

One of the principles is a zero-tolerance stance when it comes to student bullying and victimization by staff members.

"They've been called stupid for asking questions. They've been made fun of," said parent Katie Anderson.

Anderson said her two teenage children have been bullied by teachers and coaches, and like many others, their complaints were dismissed.

She said by putting the language in a teacher contract, a statement is made.

"When you put it in a contract, you're making a commitment," said Anderson.

"If it's not clearly stated, it will continue," said Berlanga. "I think the first step is laying down the law and saying this is the expectation."

One idea suggested is a district-wide policy mandating when a probe of a staff member can be launched.

However, Berlanga said the first step is to get it in writing during contract talks.

10News reporter Michael Chen asked, "Contract talks are arduous enough, could adding parents' voices bog down the process even more?"

"Parents are the customers," responded Berlanga, "Parents and students are who the district and teachers work for."

The two staff members facing the allegations were both investigated. Both remain employed, though the Torrey Pines Elementary staff member was placed on leave.

Team 10 reached out to SD Unified officials, but they did not make a comment.

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