Two Delhi Unified School District trustees – both up for re-election Tuesday – narrowly escaped being censured by the school board for claims of sexual harassment and leaking confidential information, the Merced Sun-Star has learned.
Records showed the two trustees were allowed to vote on the resolutions that would censure them, both of which failed during a special meeting last month. One political ethics expert said it’s a clear conflict of interest that the trustees did not exclude themselves from the vote.
Trustees Jesus Rodriguez and Eric Castillo were investigated for complaints of sexual harassment, misconduct and breaching confidentiality, according to the board’s resolution. A Sacramento-based law firm hired to investigate the allegations found evidence to substantiate the complaints, the resolution said.
The two trustees were recommended for censure during a Sept. 23 special meeting.
Rodriguez was recommended for censure after a teacher and former teachers association president filed sexual harassment complaints earlier this year. According to the complaints, Rodriguez spread rumors about a teacher having a sexual relationship with an administrator.
Rodriguez allegedly called Superintendent Brian Stephens in 2013 and told him the two employees were “sleeping together” and then sent Stephens an email saying the teacher had sexual relationships with at least four others. “And yet you continue to claim she’s a wonderful teacher,” Rodriguez wrote in the email, according to the resolution.
He also allegedly called Delhi High School Principal Anthony Arista to say the teacher was having an “affair” and asked why Arista was covering up for the teacher.
Rodriguez could not be reached for comment Thursday. The resolution to censure him was voted down 3-3: Rodriguez voted against it, along with Trustees Eric Castillo and Vidal Preciado.
Rodriguez was also accused of threatening Arista’s job during a phone call, revealing to a former trustee that a principal would be resigning, requesting assessment results without the superintendent’s permission and asking a vice principal to discourage people from attending a May 13 board meeting.
Castillo was recommended for censure after an incident involving his wife at a Turlock hair salon in March.
According to the complaint, Castillo’s wife was getting her hair colored while one of the district’s teachers was getting a haircut the same day. The teacher was speaking about plans to buy a house.
After the teacher left the salon, Castillo’s wife allegedly told a hairdresser, “If it was me, I would just hold off.” The comment was based on her knowledge that the teacher would not be rehired by the school district. The hairdresser called the teacher to notify him.
Castillo had received a confidential letter from Stephens the week before the salon visit stating which teachers would be hired, according to the resolution.
When reached by the Sun-Star on Thursday, Castillo said he would call back in the afternoon; he did not. The resolution to censure him failed by a majority vote: Castillo voted against it, along with Rodriguez, Preciado and board president Fidel Cervantes.
A political ethics expert said Rodriguez and Castillo should not have been allowed to vote on their own censures. In Rodriguez’s case, his vote swayed the decision in his favor.
“It did make a difference in one of the votes,” said April Hejka-Ekins, professor emeritus in the political science and public administration department of California State University, Stanislaus. “It’s a conflict of interest because they are obviously personally invested in the outcome.”
The complaints against Rodriguez and Castillo were filed by Liz Rojas, the former president of the Delhi Teachers’ Association. Rojas told the Sun-Star she sounded the alarm after numerous people came to her with concerns about the two trustees’ behavior.
“People should not have to come to work and be threatened and harassed,” Rojas said. “It’s humiliating, degrading and the person feels completely violated. There was a preponderance of evidence proving these things happened, and there has still been no apology (from the trustees).”
Rojas said the district spent at least $20,000 to investigate the claims, but the trustees continue to deny the allegations. At least three district employees have left, she added, but the teacher at the center of the Rodriguez incident continues to experience “humiliation” from the sexual rumors.
Rojas said the union’s focus is now squarely on getting new people elected to the seats held by Rodriguez and Castillo. “That’s the only recourse of action we can do,” she said.
If re-elected on Tuesday, Rodriguez would be on the board another two years; Castillo, for four years.
Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.