Redwood faculty becomes part of the #MeToo movement

Verenice Palczynski

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In the wake of the national #MeToo movement, Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) female staff members have spoken up, sharing their stories as victims of sexual misconduct. Jessica Crabtree (a teacher at Redwood High School), Eva Rieder (a teacher at Tamalpais High School), Amei Papitto (a former teacher at Redwood High School) and two anonymous sources within the TUHSD have shared their stories, either through public board meetings or personal testimonies, of being harrassed and then disregarded by administrators.

Jessica Crabtree was the first to come forward publicly. At a board meeting on Jan. 23, she spoke to how her past case of sexual assault was poorly-handled by current administration when she resurfaced it.

According to Jessica Crabtree, she came forward to Sondheim and the athletic Redwood director, Jessica Peisch, three years ago about being sexually assaulted in 1985, when she was a student at Redwood. She

Attending a board meeting on Feb. 27, from left to right, TUHSD teachers Rebecca Kittredge, Eva Reider, Amei Papitto and Jessica Crabtree have spoken out regarding the administration's handling of sexual harassment allegations.

Attending a board meeting on Feb. 27, from left to right, TUHSD teachers Rebecca Kittredge, Eva Reider, Amei Papitto and Jessica Crabtree have spoken out regarding the administration’s handling of sexual harassment allegations.

said she spoke out to ensure the male faculty member who assaulted her in 1985 would not have any presence (in person or recognition) on Redwood’s campus. Jessica Crabtree stated that administration was notified about the assault one year before this man’s name was planned to be inducted into the Redwood Athletic Hall of Fame. The alleged assailant’s name has been requested by Jessica Crabtree to be withheld.

According to Jessica Crabtree, once she found this man was going to be inducted, she went to the Union, who brought the issue to the district.

It was not until the family of a second victim came forward soon after about the same alleged offender that the man stepped down from the Redwood Athletic Hall of Fame nominees, according to Jessica Crabtree.

“At the time that [I came forward], it was told to me that all of this was just an accident, that my principal had forgotten, that my athletic director that I notified forgot,” Jessica Crabtree said at the board meeting on Jan. 23. “Since that time I’ve come to realize that it was an issue of not believing, it was an issue of dismissal in the same way we see on the national front. My story is just the first story. It’s the first story of many women that work in our district that are being ignored.”

After Jessica Crabtree’s three-minute speech at the meeting, the board thanked her without commentary.

Rieder, a Tamalpais High School math and English teacher, publicly revealed her experience of sexual harassment at the TUHSD board meeting on Feb. 6, where she spoke about how she has been harassed several times by male students in the forms of rumors, inappropriate phone calls and touching.

“My numerous inquiries since the initiatives proposed by former admin and [Human Resources] have either briefly [been dealt with] in a haphazard way or were dropped entirely. At this time, many incidents I’ve described remain unresolved,” Reider said.

According to Lars Christensen, the TUHSD’s Human Resources Director, the first step when female staff come forward with complaints of this nature is to listen.

“I don’t think that we have been dismissive or uncaring or anything like that, but I think that there are times that perhaps we have been a little slow as a society to address these concerns,” Christensen said.

Rieder’s experience is not an isolated issue. Other female staff members at Redwood said they have also experienced sexual harassment from male students and have felt silenced by administration, according to Reider.

During Papitto’s time as a Spanish teacher at Redwood High School, she stated that she was sexually harassed by students. Papitto was a teacher at Redwood High School from 2015-2016. (After that year she was not rehired). She stated in an email on Mar. 6 that the reason she was given for being fired was that she had poor relationships with her students.

“These incidents [of sexual harrassment], like others that I don’t have time to elaborate on, were not acted on when I reported them. Other times I didn’t feel confident based on past experiences with administrative support to even attempt to report them,” Papitto stated at the Feb. 27 board meeting.

At that same board meeting, in addition to Papitto’s statement, William Crabtree stated that he believes Sondheim should be removed from his position due to the poor handling of these sexual harassment cases.

Sondheim declined to comment on William Crabtree’s statement.

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At the Feb. 27 board meeting, David Yoshihara listens to the public comments regarding sexual harassment.

In an interview with KTVU Fox 2 news, Superintendent David Yoshihara remarked that the sexual harassment by male students towards female staff is what he calls “knucklehead behavior.”

A comment that was made in the press I believe to be truly shameful. Dr. Yoshihara, I believe you need to apologize for the ‘knucklehead behavior’ comment that was made in the press to every employee within the school district. It’s not right, it belittles the experience that they had,” stated William Crabtree, a government, street law, economics and computer graphics teacher at Redwood High School and Jessica Crabtree’s husband, at the TUHSD board meeting on Feb. 27.

Yoshihara did not comment on this during the board meeting. However, in a personal interview after this board meeting, he stated that teenagers make bad choices, but that the district treats harassment seriously.

“I certainly want to share and state that we always to try and treat any kind of instances of harassment very seriously. If anyone was offended I do apologize, that was not my intent,” said Yoshihara.

Two anonymous sources have also come forward through personal testimonies about their experience with sexual harassment and how administration has dealt with it.

“I was not believed. I was definitely not believed,” said an anonymous female staff member “X” when recounting how her sexual harassment case was received by the Redwood administration.

According to Christensen, the district is working hard to review the policies in place and change them as needed to handle these issues more efficiently.

Source X said, “I reported [the harassment] first thing in the morning and it was not investigated. I went to the campus administrator who was in my vicinity at that time. Then I told all of the administrators because I was so unnerved about what happened. Nothing. No traction.”

According to source X, the students who were interviewed by administration about the incident denied their alleged actions and have faced no punishment.

Similarly, a second anonymous female staff member “Y” who was also harassed by male students went to administrators and the only punishment students received was light interrogation, removal from class for one day and a message home, according to source Y.

“I was lecturing in class and a student rose his hand and said something wildly inappropriate to me directly, with the audience of the whole class, and it was of a sexual nature,” source Y said.

Source Y went to administration to inform them of what had happened and said she walked away feeling discredited and unsupported.

“After my meeting with administration after school, I did not feel believed. I think that the opinion that we as teachers are mature, capable adults can kind of lead to an attitude of ‘you can deal with it, this is your job, boys will be boys.’ In reality I think it is much bigger than that,” source Y said.

While the female staff that have come forward feel as though the male student offenders have walked away without much punishment, Principal David Sondheim said he believes the administration and district are applying serious and appropriate punishments.

“If we are talking sexual harassment and sexual assault cases in particular, we take them extremely seriously and we will provide punishment to the maximum that we can so that [the student] knows how seriously we take it and it sends a message to others as well,” Sondheim said.

Sondheim expressed that punishment is handled case by case and declined to give examples of the types of punishments given.

In addition to the current TUHSD Title IX Coordinator, Wes Cedros, the district recently hired a second

Speaking at the Jan. 23 TUHSD board meeting, Jessica Crabtree about past sexual harassment.

Speaking at the Jan. 23 TUHSD board meeting, Jessica Crabtree about past sexual harassment.

Title IX Coordinator, Tara Taupier, who specializes in cases of gender and sex-based discrimination and harassment, to look into some of these harassment cases.

Sondheim said that he looks forward to hearing the coordinators’ suggestions as to how they can improve the process and policies regarding the handling of these sexually-natured issues.

The women affected said they feel that there should be no delay in bringing change.

“Where are the rules that students should follow about not sexually harassing adults on campus? Policy can come later. We want all staff members to be safe in their classrooms, to do what they were hired and trained to do. I don’t think that’s asking too much,” source X said.

Jessica Crabtree, Reider, source X, source Y and Papitto have expressed feeling unheard by their superiors.

“I had an incident on [Feb. 5] happen and I didn’t even face those students when I heard them say something about me because there is nothing backing me. What would someone do about it? I don’t trust my administration that they are going to support me,” source X said.

The investigation in these sexual harassment issues is ongoing. Sondheim declined to comment on his involvement in the investigative process.

Updated on Saturday, Mar. 17, 2018 at 6:46 p.m.