LocationAlhambra , CA United States
A high school teacher has filed a complaint with state authorities against the Alhambra Unified School District, alleging gender discrimination and harassment related to a vandalism incident that occurred at the end of the last school year.
David Whitman, an environmental science teacher at San Gabriel High School, filed the complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, saying that school officials allowed lewd graffiti to remain on his classroom door for six months before cleaning it up.
“The vandalism was sexual in nature, offensive, and created a hostile work environment,” Whitman wrote in his Nov. 17 complaint.
Whitman alleges “disparate treatment,” noting in the complaint that the school dealt with the graffiti and damage caused to other teachers’ classrooms the day of the incident, or during the summer recess, while a drawing of a penis remained on his door until Nov. 15, along with the sentence “F U.” During that time, Whitman and his students saw the image every time they walked by.
Documents obtained by Whitman show that he emailed San Gabriel Principal Debbie Stone and Assistant Principal Matthew Dultz several times about painting over the graffiti on his door. No action was taken until October, when the door was painted. The graffiti was still partially visible.
Whitman believes the slow response was due to administrators not taking his complaint seriously because of his gender. “For some reason, Alhambra Unified thinks it’s just fine to have a male teacher have a penis on his door for five months,” he said in an interview with the Alhambra Source. “What if I was gay? What if I was female? Complete disregard for my workspace and the hostile environment they left me with.”
Neither Stone nor Dultz returned repeated requests for comment.
California fair employment complaints typically take several months to investigate, with the complainant often providing the evidence for it. The department usually settles these cases through some kind of enforcement.
Whitman’s criticism echoes that of some other teachers from San Gabriel High School, who criticized the school administration and the district’s response, saying that officials failed to inform them of the progress of their investigation, including whether the students involved were being prosecuted.
Scott Myers, an English teacher, said he was disappointed that the incident was dealt with as a typical senior prank would be. “I don’t know if it was the district or the site that called it a prank — every time you have real damage to a public building, you can’t really call it a prank,” he said.
Graffiti was painted near Myers’ classroom, and his door was egged, but he said that both were painted over either on the day of the incident, or by the time he came back from summer vacation.
Robert Johnson, a biology teacher who helped Whitman file paperwork through the Alhambra Teachers Association to get his door cleaned up, supported his colleague. “From my standpoint, if it had happened to a woman with the same type of graffiti, it would’ve been taken care of I think much quicker,” he said.
Other graffiti referred to Stone and history teacher Michael Ramsay, who retired after last year and recently died, in a disparaging manner. Johnson said that he saw work crews cleaning up and painting at both locations the morning after the vandalism was discovered. The classroom window of a female teacher was also broken during the incident, but the school repaired it during the summer.
At a meeting with San Gabriel faculty on Nov. 15, Assistant Superintendent Laurel Bear said that because the crime occurred at the end of the school year, after the students had fulfilled graduation requirements, the only action open to the district was to prevent them from participating in the graduation ceremony.
She also said that they would work on keeping teachers better informed during future incidents.
Bear did not return repeated requests for comment.
At the meeting, she also addressed the decision not to criminally prosecute the students. The Alhambra Police Department was called on the day of the vandalism, but the district ultimately opted to handle the matter internally as a prank, a police department spokesman said.
Bear also told San Gabriel faculty that there was not enough evidence to bring such a case. “There was not an admission across the board to every piece of writing on our school site,” she said, explaining that the students had to sign their name by photos of the graffiti they personally drew. Photos of the vandalism appear to show signatures besides most of the documented vandalism, except for some of the more egregious graffiti.
Bear added at the meeting that this decision was devastating to the students and their families. “For many of us, that’s one of many milestones,” she said. “For our students, that’s often the first milestone for their family.”
Whitman said the argument was hard to accept, given the severity of the vandalism. “Any person with any sense would look at the pictures that I have obtained, and would be absolutely shocked that this district would let them off the hook,” he said.
Whitman said that he still loves teaching and the diversity of the San Gabriel High School community, where he has worked since 2007. But he hopes that the superintendent and school officials will be held accountable for putting him through an emotional ordeal. “I’ve called it the three of them dancing around a fire in my head,” he said. “And it’s not fun.”
View selected photos of the vandalism below, obtained from Alhambra Unified School District through a public records request.