National News

Investigators find collective failure by PPS employees regarding alleged misconduct by former teacher

Posted May 11, 2018 8:09 a.m. EDT

— An independent investigation team brought forward its findings of how the district handled numerous complaints about a former teacher.

After seven months, investigators found a collective failure by PPS employees at all levels.

It was a tough realization on Thursday for board members, a couple becoming tearful, and apologizing to the students who have endured their shortcomings.

After months of investigation by an independent team, a report commissioned by the Portland Public Schools board was finally ready.

The findings detail three decades of alleged misconduct by a former teacher and coach, Mitch Whitehurst and how PPS could have done better.

"My daughter had Whitehurst as a teacher when she was here in PPS so as you can imagine when I'm reading this report and thinking about all the other families whose children may have had Whitehurst as a teacher and the fact that the system didn't protect them is not only disheartening but it's frustrating," PPS Board Chair Julia Brim-Edwards said.

In 2015, a lawsuit was filed against PPS, claiming Whitehurst, a longtime coach at Faubion school in northeast Portland fondled another employee and was allowed to continue working.

Whitehurst did plead guilty to misdemeanor harassment and he was put on administrative leave, and then allowed to retire.

That suit was settled for $250,000 dollars in 2016.

"Mr. Whitehurst's conduct went largely undetected by supervising administrators," Head of the investigation team Bob Weaver said.

Weaver said they found a collective failure by employees at all levels.

One of the biggest challenges investigators faced, they said, was the lack of effective documentation, or any at all.

Additionally, investigators said they found many employees to have done their jobs, expecting others to pick up where they left off.

"None of them ever said wait a minute, look at this, why is this guy still here and to go outside of their job description or their understanding of their role," Weaver said. "No one ever said this is probably beyond my written responsibility as a fill in the blank, as an HR person, or lawyer, but why is this guy still here we gotta get this guy out of here. That never happened and that was just a stunning absence I would say."

Investigators made recommendations including new training for PPS employees, volunteers, independent contractors and students and new procedures for how to report sexual conduct and more.

"This was a very thorough report. It's painful to read," Weaver said.

"I think that the board was tearful," Katherine Rodela Mother of PPS student said. "They were angry and they very explicitly said they were failures at every level of the system."

Parents told FOX 12 they are hopeful after Thursday's meeting.

Investigators ended with saying there is good news to come out of this. Cases like these are preventable and everyone they spoke with was united in making sure what happened with Mitch Whitehurst never happens again.