PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Portland Public Schools Board of Education voted to hire independent investigators to determine whether school and district officials ignored complaints of sexual misconduct against one of its educators for years.
The investigation will be led by Bob Weaver, who has more than 40 years of experience in complex business and tax litigation and white collar criminal defense. and Joy Ellis, who has 20 years of experience in employment and education law. Both have extensive experience in conducting internal investigations.
Former Multnomah County prosecutor Norman Frink will also assist in the investigation.
The team is also tasked with recommending changes to district policies, practices and procedures regarding personnel complaints and misconduct related to students.
According to an investigative report by The Oregonian, school and district officials repeatedly dismissed complaints against Mitch Whitehurst, who was employed for more than 30 years by PPS as a coach and educator at six different schools.
The complaints came from girls and women over a span of 13 years. They said they were subjected to leering, suggestive remarks or requests for oral sex from Whitehurst.
According to the newspaper's reporting, district officials, lawyers, human resource directors and at least three principals downplayed the allegations as rumors, misunderstandings or isolated incidents.
Whitehurst was terminated in 2015 after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment of a male colleague. The school district settled that case in court for $534,000. After the state licensing agency launched an investigation into Whitehurst's conduct, he surrendered his teaching license.
The board said it expects the investigation to conclude with recommendations to PPS leadership by the end of the year.
“There is nothing more important than the safety and wellbeing of our students,” said Board Chair Julia Brim-Edwards. “Our students are entitled to a safe learning environment and complaints must be addressed promptly and appropriately. If there are weaknesses in our policies or procedures, we will fix them."