PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The Portland Public Schools Board of Education decided Tuesday to allow outside counsel to lead the investigation into a former teacher accused of sexual misconduct.
Not only will they work toward finding out if there is any truth to these allegations, but also if complaints against the teacher were ignored by the district.
Mitchell Whitehurst, who was a gym teacher at Faubion School, pleaded guilty to physically harassing a fellow PPS employee in 2015. He was then sentenced to 18 months of probation for the misdemeanor.
Court documents from the employee’s lawsuit against the district revealed Whitehurst was also the subject of sexual misconduct complaints from students that may not have been thoroughly investigated or reported to police.
Several allegations were reported to the district as far back as 2001 — some of them dating back to the 1980s, according to court documents.
The district allegedly found the accusations unsubstantiated or didn’t investigate them thoroughly.
The PPS Board hired Amy Joseph Pedersen of Stoel Rives to help Bob Weaver and Joy Ellis of the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer to lead the investigation.
Pedersen will provide recommendations to strengthen district policies, practice and procedures for employee complaints and misconduct as it relates to students.
Retired Multnomah County Chief Deputy District Attorney Norm Frink will also be on the team. Fraink has over 35 years of experience as a public prosecutor.
The board directed the investigation team to answer questions relating to Whitehurst and whether PPS staff were aware of concerns about his misconduct with students, but failed to take appropriate action.
Dave Northfield with PPS said, “The purpose of this investigation is to take a look at what happened over the years, do a better job connecting the dots with the idea of keeping PPS students as safe as possible.”
Whitehurst was also the athletic director at Jefferson High School at one point, but his teaching license was revoked in 2016. After the initial harassment case, he was allowed to retire from PPS.
After they approved the decision to receive outside help, Board Chair Julia Brim-Edwards said,
The safety and well-being of our students is a paramount priority. We believe that this team — with their expertise in internal investigations, education and Oregon laws and procedures — is the right team to provide an independent and comprehensive review of this matter to identify system and personnel failures and inform what we must do to ensure that students are safe and staff and community who work with our students are accountable for student safety.”
The board said the investigation into Whitehurst is a priority and their goal is to have it completed by the end of the year. They’ve also budgeted $125,000 for the investigation.