The Nicholas Jr. High Sex Abuser: What Went Wrong?

Over at the OC Weekly, Gustavo Arellano got his hands on the deposition tapes for the civil trial of Melissa Nicole Lindgren. She was the young Nicholas Jr. High teacher who is doing 4 years in state prison for lewd acts against three Fullerton students.

Despite numerous warning signs, the abuse occurred under the school administrators noses for several years before she was finally arrested in 2014.

Sad Days Ahead

Mr. Arellano’s article goes into great detail, but here is the most important question:

Who is responsible for leaving this predator in the classroom after numerous warning signs?

Let’s take a look at the suspects:

The Fullerton Police Department: Received an anonymous letter alleging inappropriate activity with students. Detectives claim they investigated the issues, but they ultimately cleared the teacher.  According to one inside source, the FPD’s failed investigation actually hampered the school district’s ability to take action.

Matthew Barnett, Nicholas principal: Noted many warning signs, but ultimately “couldn’t put his finger” on Lindgren’s indiscretions until she was arrested. He also forgot to interview Lindgren about the accusations in the anonymous letter. Barnett has since been promoted to “Director of Educational Services” at the Fullerton School District.

The Fullerton School Board: Fairly useless in disciplinary matters. Most of the school board is content to take cover behind state laws that prevent them from resolving personnel issues. The one action the board did take responsibility for: paying a $3.25 million settlement to Lindgren’s victims.

The teachers’ union: School administrators will tell you that their investigatory and disciplinary powers are extremely limited by special state laws that protect deviant teachers like Lindgren. These laws are put into place by elected officials at the behest of the powerful California Teachers Association. These protections clearly hindered the district’s ability to investigate and terminate a child predator in their midst.

“I can’t think of a single thing that we could have done in our roles to do anything differently,” said Barnett.

So back to the question. Who is responsible for allowing this teacher to run wild?

Take your pick. But wherever blame is cast, there is one certainty that nobody will admit: The Fullerton School District can’t offer any assurance of your child’s safety. And everyone involved seems to be OK with that.

What Happened at Beechwood School?

An emergency parent meeting was called at Beechwood school last night to explain that a teacher had been placed on administrative leave and that the police department was conducting an investigation into…well, something they’re not allowed to tell us about. The Chief was adamant that there was no evidence that a crime was committed or that any students were involved, which makes you wonder what he’s “investigating” in the first place.

It’s interesting to watch Superintendent Hovey and interim Police Chief Hughes struggle with a new-found interest in transparency, releasing only enough information to scare people about what the teacher might have done. Parents in the room didn’t seem to appreciate the lack of detail. One mother even came to tears trying to figure out if anything had happened to her own child (25 minutes in).

An attentive resident brought us this video of the meeting:

UPDATE: School Board Trustee Chris Thompson posted this comment addressing the question of what the board currently knows about the investigation:

I do not mind being held accountable. For clarity’s sake, I have NOT been briefed on any aspect of this story beyond the information which has been made publicly available in the meeting posted here. I have made it clear to Dr. Hovey that I believe that fact is inhibiting my ability to do my job as a trustee. Dr. Hovey informed me that he had been advised by the district’s law firm as to what information he could and could not give to the board members. He did confirm that he knows more than we do. As the law firm’s primary role is to limit the districts liability, there is no surprise there. Unfortunately, my role is to be 1/5th of an independently elected body whose job it is to ensure that our district does the right and smart thing, and I cannot very well do that if I am “managed” by the district’s lawyer. I believe that the theory is that if the board members are informed of the details of the investigation prior to the conclusion of the investigation that our impartiality will be brought into question if any decisions need to be made by the board as a result of the investigation. I don’t buy it. The people elected us to oversee this government entity and the entity itself is preventing us from knowing the details of what is going on within our own walls. At the risk of sounding self-important, I thought we were in charge.

Having said that, I would not personally use the phrase cover-up at this point. I will not quietly sit by uninformed for any extended length of time. This situation is three days old and we are talking about an elementary school. The individual who is the focus of whatever it is we are investigating has been administratively removed from the classroom and we are being told that there is zero evidence of any direct impact to children. My first step is really what I am doing here. Making it known publicly that I think it is a mistake to withhold the details of the investigation from the board.

Ostensibly, the board would be able to offer some comfort to the community…or some guidance to management about we believe we should proceed. I have no idea if I even agree that there should be an investigation.

As a final comment, I want make it clear that I believe it is exceedingly likely that both Mitch Hovey and Dan Hughes are doing what they believe to be best for the children and the community. I also believe that it is my job to review all of the knowable circumstances in order to determine whether I concur with Dr. Hovey’s actions. I have no way of doing that now.

Chris Thompson

FSD Forks Over $35k to Fired Lunch Lady

The Fullerton School District had the summer off while our attention was diverted to more important matters. Under that cover and with the convenient assistance of closed session, the Board handed a ridiculous $35,000 cash settlement (our money, not theirs) to a previously fired six-figure employee who didn’t like getting terminated.

Lisa Reynoso is an ex-Director of Nutrition Services who presumably neglected her job duties so badly that the district took on the daunting task of actually terminating her employment and replacing her with someone better.

The board had been wanting to fire Ms. Reynoso for years, but the first attempt at some sort of action in 2007 was overturned by the Personnel Commission, a crazy union invention in which a dubious mix of unelected and unaccountable bad-employee sympathizers actually have power above and beyond the school board itself.

An unsettling agreement

So the lunch lady’s tenure was extended by a few years, which was more than enough for her to earn herself another termination by doing something else bad. We don’t know what she did this time, but anyone who’s tried the meatloaf knows that the bar is pretty low in a grade school cafeteria.

Did the board take charge and let her go this time? No. Our spineless representatives took the easy way out and gave her a parting settlement instead. At the taxpayers’ expense, of course.

It’s lost on these unprincipled, short-sighted administrators that handing cash to an ex-employee who doesn’t deserve it only encourages future bad apples to pursue the same jackpot. Shampoo, rinse, repeat, waste money, hope nobody notices.

What a mess.

The scam was ultimately abetted by the spineless “ayes” of board members Bev Berryman, Janny Meyer and Hilda Sugarman in closed session, with Chris Thompson dissenting.

Dealing with Denial: A Test for Teachers

We fielded all sorts of bitter accusations from teachers when FFFF handed out our list of teacher and administrator pay at this week’s teacher rallies. Responses ranged from the simple “the list is garbage” and “my brother does not make that kind of money” all the way to “the District distorted the figures because they’re against us.”

Yes, we explained that the numbers came straight from district HQ (Here are details, in case you’ve missed it: FJUHSD Salaries over $90,000 and FSD Salaries over $90,000.) But some of the chanting unioneers could not be swayed.

Teachers of the list, here is your challenge:

Show us your pay stubs from the 2009-2010 school year! If you can prove that your salary was overstated in our flier, we’ll go back to district HQ and take them to task on your behalf.

Otherwise, we’ll just go with what we already know: this list is 100% true and correct.


Tax-Cheering Teachers Get Mad

In the midst of a teachers’ union protest for higher taxes the other day, we handed out a list of 585 Fullerton teachers and administrators who make over $90,000. Our camera captured their reaction:

This afternoon the teachers’ union will be at it again, this time on Harbor Blvd. in Downtown Fullerton. John and Ken will be there too, and so will FFFF.

I also heard that the teachers’ unions are planning some kind of “surprise” in response to the conservative radio duo. Come on down, it might be fun.

Cirque du FSD

What kind of circus is FSD Ringmaster Lynn Thornley running? One that promotes kiddie antics and award ceremonies over legitimate board business.

The hyper-analytical Chris Thompson put together this chart of FSD meeting time spent wallowing in tomfoolery vs. legitimate school board business:

Now with 50% more fluff.

In Tuesday’s meeting, Thompson was fighting to bring an end to former Superintendent Cameron McCune’s laptop extortion scheme (thousands of dollars taken from parents by pressuring them to buy expensive Apple laptops.) But Lynn Thornley did everything she could to cut off debate and move to a quick vote HERE.

This haste occurred in meeting of which over an hour was dedicated to Cub Scout flag ceremonies, awards, various glad-handing, and a lady dancing around with a quilt over her head.

No joke:

The end result? Watch here as Thompson makes his case to end this boondoggle, debate is cut short and Trustee Berryman is run over, abstaining on an issue because she wasn’t given a chance to ask questions. The decision was rammed through anyway, leaving individual families to spend about $174,000 of their own money to keep this sinking technology program temporarily afloat.

Total time spent on legitimate discussion: 18 minutes.

Fullerton Stories Gets A Close Look at Chris Thompson

Take a look at this new article on Fullerton School Board Trustee Chris Thompson.

In the article, Thompson (the top overall Fullerton vote-getter in 2010) outlines his battle to improve the value and quality of public education by making a portion of teacher compensation based on performance, rather than just seniority and certificates.

Thompson is an avowed conservative in a conservative town, but he frequently finds himself voting against the other school board members on financial issues. He blames the power of the public employee unions for much of the financial challenges that our school districts face today.

So what about that “challenging the status quo” label? Chris doesn’t seem to accept furlough days and class size increases as a good deal for kids OR taxpayers. If that makes him an anomaly on the school board, then our kids really are getting swindled.