BELLFLOWER — School board member Peggy Turner has denied accusations that she improperly used her position to gain entrance to a teacher's locked office and look at confidential files.
Turner said she was acting as a parent, not as an elected official, last month when she entered Bellflower High School's student activities office, got a secretary to unlock the director's office and looked at a copy of the school's pep squad constitution, which had been stored in a file drawer that also held confidential files on students.
Randy Bomgaars, president of the Bellflower Education Assn., said, however, that Turner used her authority as board member to get into the locked office of pep squad adviser Cindy Aimerito, and was seen reading the contents of a folder from a drawer that also contained confidential information on students--including her two daughters--who wanted to be reappointed to the pep squad.
Daughters in Competition
Her two girls were members of the squad and were competing for next year's team, Turner said.
Turner, who is in her first term on the school board, has denied looking at the confidential files. Aimerito, whose office she entered, has said she did not see Turner actually looking at those files.
Aimerito said in an interview, however, that when she came into the office and found Turner there, the file drawer was open and Turner had in her hand a folder containing a copy of the pep squad constitution.
"I don't know if she looked at the confidential files; I don't know how much time she had," Aimerito said in a May 6 interview.
Turner said students, including her daughters, had asked her to get them a copy of the constitution, which is a public document.
"I've told them (school district employees) when I'm not wearing my badge identifying me as a board member, that I'm a parent. I didn't give up my motherhood because I became a board member," Turner said in an interview Tuesday.
"I was merely a gofer. The kids asked me to get the constitution for them," Turner said.
Teachers Call for Resignation
The April 11 incident has caused continued turmoil in the 12,000-student school district. The teachers association has asked for Turner's resignation. Two board members asked to have her censured, but the motion failed.
Instead, the board voted at its May 16 meeting to have the California School Board Assn. investigate the incident. The association represents about 96% of the state's school boards.
Turner blamed the continuing squabble on "politics."
The association is attempting to set a date, perhaps early next month, when it will conduct an investigation and perhaps make recommendations to the district, said Richard Montgomery, director of field services for the association.
"We have no authority to compel anybody to do anything. Ours is a cooperative arrangement," said Montgomery.
In a one-page letter distributed in the district the week of May 13-17, Turner defended her actions and denied any wrongdoing.
In the letter, Turner said she has "apologized to the teacher for any ill feelings that may have arisen" from her action.
Referring to her frequent work in the schools as a parent volunteer, she wrote: "I also offered to be more careful and in the future, wait for direction to be given to me as a parent who is volunteering help."
During Tuesday's interview, Turner said, "It is obvious my apology was not accepted."
The file drawer contained confidential teachers' evaluations of the performances of students trying to make or be reappointed to the school's pep squad, said Bomgaars of the teachers' association.
Got Secretary's Aid
"Whether she saw the confidential files is not known, but she asked the secretary to unlock the door and she (secretary) did it because Turner was a board member," said Bomgaars, who has asked Turner to resign.
Aimerito, who also teaches English at the school, found Turner in her office and asked her to leave, Bomgaars said.
Bomgaars, in a May 2 letter to the board asking for Turner's resignation, accused Turner of attempting to interfere with pep squad selection and of misusing her authority.
Bomgaars said that if what Turner is accused of doing is "not illegal, it is definitely immoral and unethical."
Turner said: "If this wasn't an election year this would not be happening." She accused board members Jay Gendreau and Larry Ward and teachers union officials of keeping the controversy going. Turner, Ward and board member Justine Miller are up for election in November.
"The teachers union officials want a third member on the board, someone in (the union's) hip pocket," Turner said.
Censure Motion Tabled
During the May 16 meeting, Ward and Gendreau voted to censure Turner, but Turner, Miller and board member Brooks Cope voted to table the motion and instead ask for the school board association investigation.
"Censure is nothing binding. It simply says the board disapproves of her action. It is merely hand-slapping," Gendreau in an interview.
Turner called the entire affair "insulting" to her daughters, who she said are "excellent students, and have made the pep squad with no help from me."
Both girls are on the current 40-member pep squad and were selected for next year's squad by judges from outside the district, Turner said.