Did they or did they not drop the ball? That is the question paramount in many peoples minds, as the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) grapples with the prospect that an assistant principal at Markham Middle School–who pleaded innocent during his arraignment in court yesterday to charges that he conducted lewd acts on a childwas shifted from one inner city school to another.
Although his lawyer asked for a reduction of the $1 million bail, the request was denied by the commissioner who cited flight risk and the fact that Steven Thomas Rooney abused a position of trust. The LAUSD educator will be back in court April 7 for a preliminary hearing. If he is convicted in the case, he faces up to 34 years in state prison.
Rooney, who was reportedly on medical leave from Markham Middle School, was arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) on March 4 and two days later charged by the district attorneys office with three counts of forcible lewd acts upon a child under age 14 and two counts of a lewd act upon a child.
The incidents reportedly happened between January 1 and March 1, on and off campus, to a 13-year-old limited English-speaking girl, according to the District Attorneys charges.
What makes the situation even more unpalatable and has thrown the LAUSD into the middle of a firestorm, is that Rooney had previously been investigated and arrested by the LAPD.
According to published reports, the seven-year district employee was arrested in early 2007 for allegedly pulling a gun on the stepfather of one of his Foshay Learning Center (K-12) students. During the subsequent investigation, police suspected the relationship between Rooney and the then 17 year old was much more than a teacher-student relationship.
In the same published report, LAPD reportedly obtained a search warrant, and found photos of the Foshay student and a pair of her tennis shoes in Rooneys house. The student allegedly admitted she had also been involved in a year-long sexual relationship with the educator. But, because the girl refused to cooperate (she was by then age 18), police did not file charges.
While the investigation was in progress, Rooney, who had become a vice principal at Fremont High School by this time, was removed from the school and put in a position that had no contact with students.
However, after the LAPD did not press charges, and supposedly informed the district of the decision, Rooney was moved to Markham as assistant principal.
What is at issue is (1) whether the school district was notified; (2) did the District conduct its own investigation, (3) did the District fail its responsibility to protect children by sending Rooney to another school (Markham); and (4) were administrators at Markham informed about the allegations and investigation?
According to stated district policy, decisions by law enforcement not to proceed with an action must NOT influence the Districts handling of the matter. This is because the District has a heightened responsibility for the safety of its students, irrespective of law enforcement or prosecutorial reasons for dropping a case, and because law enforcement agencies may decline to prosecute a case for many reasons not reflecting the merits of the case.
Additionally district policy reads if the employee is transferred to another site, the local District Superintendent or Unit/Division Head or his/her designee MUST advise the receiving site administrator and other supervisory personnel of the reason(s) for the transfer in accordance with the applicable collective bargaining agreement. (sic)
Mike OSullivan, president of the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles, the union which represents most administrative personnel including assistant principals, said that their collective bargaining agreement does not address the issue of whether campus administrators should be notified, if a placement they are receiving has been investigated for sexual misconduct involving a student.
What the contract provision says, is that in the event that an employee is being transferred, the employee has the right to know why they are being transferred. . . this is the crux of the entire matter, continued OSullivan. I have gone on record saying this in the past, that if in fact the (mini) school district that was responsible for Mr. Rooneys assignment had been aware of anything untoward regarding an inappropriate relationship with a student, it would be a complete shock if they would have reassigned him in any way.
. . . my sources are telling me that what was transmitted was the basic facts that no charges were filed with reference to the gun case. That is the end of it, he said.
OSullivan pointed out that the dilemma is simply this: what if the second case turns out to fall apart. It is a matter of balancing protection of students with the rights of employees and the American jurisprudence tenet that everyone is innocent until proven guilty.