Editorial: SF school board should review false sexual abuse cases

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday January 17, 2024
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The San Francisco Board of Education should review the cases of two LGBTQ educators caught up in false sexual misconduct claims, one of which led to a monthslong investigation. Photo: Cynthia Laird
The San Francisco Board of Education should review the cases of two LGBTQ educators caught up in false sexual misconduct claims, one of which led to a monthslong investigation. Photo: Cynthia Laird

It's one of the oldest — and most damaging — of tropes: that gay people molest children. Yet, when confronted by this false allegation against a gay educator, San Francisco Unified School District officials, instead of fighting the homophobic bias of allegations that were determined to be untrue, chose to enable the accuser's parents, who then went on to file a similar unfounded complaint about a year later against a bisexual male educator.

The San Francisco Board of Education should review these cases so that other SFUSD personnel aren't caught up in what, in our opinion, can be described as malicious intent on the part of one family. So far, according to school board commissioner Mark Sanchez, a queer man, the school board has not reviewed the cases.

As we report this week, gay educator David Hemminger endured months of a formal Title IX investigation by district officials in 2022 after a third grade student (complainant) at McKinley Elementary School in the Castro and her mother accused him of sexual misconduct. Once he was officially cleared, however, he was forced to transfer to another school despite having done nothing wrong and having positive performance reviews. Stephanie Bealby, director of employee relations for the school district who signed the report, explicitly stated, under "Discipline and Consequences: Because there were no findings of a violation of board policy, this Decision-Maker does not make any recommendations for formal discipline for [Hemminger]." Bealby did state that she feels strongly that Hemminger should not have any contact with the student. And under "Supportive Measures," she did recommend that Hemminger not return to McKinley to make sure the student feels comfortable and because Hemminger was the only resource specialist at McKinley.

Before Hemminger was told he'd have to transfer schools, a top district administrator met with him and said they wanted him back at McKinley, giving Hemminger false hope that his life could return to normal. Of course, that did not happen and he subsequently received the transfer letter.

After Hemminger was told he'd have to transfer schools, his attorney at the time sent a demand letter to the school district outlining the homophobic bias in his case. The district responded that Hemminger's transfer was a "supportive measure for the student," who believes the allegation to be true, according to Hemminger.

In Hemminger's case, the effects of the now-closed investigation are ongoing. Most significantly, in addition to being reassigned, the complainant's mother is apparently allowed to control where Hemminger is allowed to go in his own Castro neighborhood (he lives a few blocks from McKinley). She reportedly called McKinley officials to complain after Hemminger attended a graduation ceremony there in 2023 and ran into her on the street — off campus — after which district officials told him he could not be on the McKinley campus unless the parent or site administrator said it was OK. The district ceding such authority to a parent post-adjudication is unfortunate. Hemminger said that prior to that he was never informed he could not be on campus. He should not have to continue to suffer punishment affecting his employment or ability to move freely about his neighborhood now that the investigation has been closed.

In 2023, about a year later after Hemminger's case, Douglas Rich, a bi male teacher at McKinley, was accused by the same student and her parents of similar sexual misconduct. Both educators have worked in the district for years, and Hemminger had worked with the student since kindergarten. While we understand the need to investigate serious accusations, we're dismayed by the district's overall attitude and response in these cases. In the false incident involving Rich, the allegation didn't even occur on campus — or in San Francisco — so the district should have referred the matter to local authorities and not instigated an investigation at all. The parents ultimately decided not to pursue the case; Rich told us he saw them laughing about it afterward. And he's aware that if the parents had decided differently, he likely would have endured a formal investigation like Hemminger did.

LGBTQ people are fantastic educators. They care about their students, like other teachers and support staff. Yes, teachers and other educators do commit crimes, just like in any other profession. That's why investigations are conducted, and from the documents we've reviewed, SFUSD did a thorough investigation in Hemminger's case. But now that the final determination was made over a year ago, he should not face continuing penalties. That is why the Board of Education should review these matters, so that LGBTQ educators like Hemminger and Rich do not have to spend the rest of their careers looking over their shoulders wondering what some disgruntled family will do next.

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