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2 removed in school sex cases

L.A. Unified's top deputy blames lack of communication for failure to take action.

May 07, 2008|Howard Blume | Times Staff Writer

Two senior Los Angeles school district administrators have been removed from their jobs for failing to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against an employee and then clearing him to work at a Watts middle school, where he allegedly molested two additional students.

Local district Supt. Carol Truscott and Scott Braxton, who formerly worked for Truscott, have been relieved of duties and assigned to the central office pending further investigation into how they dealt with former Assistant Principal Stephen Thomas Rooney. Rooney, who is being held on $1-million bail, faces sexual misconduct charges in relation to three current and former Los Angeles Unified School District students.

The moves were announced Tuesday afternoon by Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who took charge of the district's response to the Rooney case Tuesday morning. Supt. David L. Brewer, who was in San Diego viewing schools, did not return telephone calls Tuesday seeking comment.

"There is evidence they did not do what is expected," Cortines said of Truscott and Braxton. In cases involving alleged sexual misconduct, "we have a responsibility to continue the investigation until we feel that the employee is cleared to be in contact with students. Our policy is clear: Regardless of what the Los Angeles Police Department does and what our own school police do, we have a responsibility to continue the investigation."

Rooney was first arrested early last year on charges of brandishing a gun at the stepfather of a former student. District officials immediately reassigned Rooney to a job where he would have no contact with students pending the resolution of the case. During the police inquiry, allegations emerged that Rooney had conducted a long-term sexual relationship with the student starting when she was 15. As The Times reported Monday, police quickly alerted top district officials to the possible relationship. Police and prosecutors eventually concluded that they lacked sufficient evidence to pursue charges, in large part because the alleged victim, who had since turned 18, refused to testify against Rooney.

In the district, communication broke down, said Cortines, who joined the the school system as the No. 2 administrator last month. He said an internal report paints a picture of a disjointed district response throughout. For example, the employee relations office handled the Rooney case on behalf of district headquarters, yet staff members there insist they knew only of the gun charge, Cortines said in an interview and a prepared statement.

On the day of Rooney's arrest on that charge in February 2007, then-Chief Operating Officer Dan Isaacs, who retired in June, alerted 11 senior officials and Brewer as well as the seven-member school board. But Isaacs did not copy the memo to the employee relations staff, Cortines said. Isaacs' memo, provided to The Times on Tuesday, was a one-paragraph summary that said the "LAPD is also investigating allegations that he [Rooney] had an unlawful sexual relationship with a minor."

Cortines said, however, that "Mr. Isaacs' memo was not that explicit," adding, however, that it would be wrong to foist blame on a retired employee.

At the point when Isaacs left, Rooney had not been permitted back at a school site.

One person who received the Isaacs memo, according to district records, was Truscott.

When police decided not to file charges, Truscott and Braxton assigned Rooney to Markham Middle School.

"They will tell you they felt the direction from downtown [headquarters] was unclear," Cortines said.

In fact, employee relations cleared Rooney to return to work regarding the gun charge, the only issue staff members said they knew about. But neither employee relations nor Truscott made sure that the required internal follow-up took place. Cortines said there was never an internal investigation of any sort until the district hired an outside law firm this year to determine how the case was mishandled.

And although district practices may have become "unclear or fuzzy," Cortines said, "the district policy, our own district policy, makes it very clear what we should do."

In March, police arrested Rooney and charged him with molesting a 13-year-old Markham student at his downtown loft apartment. They have since charged him with molesting a second Markham student. Meanwhile, Rooney's former underage girlfriend, whom he met while teaching at the Foshay Learning Center, testified against him in a preliminary hearing last week.

Truscott presided over one of the eight divisions into which the nation's second-largest school system is divided. Her South Los Angeles territory included Foshay, Fremont High and Markham, the last three schools where Rooney worked.

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