Report Details Portland Public School's Problems

posted by Brad Ford -

Portland Public Schools’ Board of Education on Thursday received the Board-requested, independent investigation report of former PPS teacher and staff member Mitch Whitehurst, including an examination of allegations of misconduct against students made throughout Whitehurst’s decades-long tenure, key findings, and numerous recommendations for PPS to address systemic short-comings and systems failures.  

The Report to the Portland Public Schools Board of Education:  Findings and Recommendations of the Whitehurst Investigation Team, delivered at a special Board meeting Thursday at the Blanchard Education Service Center by the three independent investigators, details how a combination of shortcomings led to the District’s failure to recognize alleged sexual conduct with students, to investigate that conduct thoroughly, or to take action to ensure a safe educational environment by removing Whitehurst from his PPS employment. 

The report includes a set of recommendations for the District, covering sexual conduct complaint procedures, investigation procedures, training, document management, greater transparency in resignation agreements, and lobbying for better protections for students at the state level.

“As a parent, I know that parents expect that the safety of their children will be at the center of our work. I appreciate the thoroughness of the investigation team’s report, and thank the girls and young women who voiced their concerns or spoke up over the years about misconduct. Their voices and the failures spotlighted in this report are a call to action to school district leadership. We must commit to taking action and making fundamental changes so that we can prevent this from ever happening again,” said Julia Brim-Edwards, PPS Board Chair. 

“We appreciate the exhaustive work completed by the investigation team; it helps the District understand what occurred and what work is needed to protect students,” said PPS Superintendent, Guadalupe Guerrero. “I am committed to working closely with the Board to consider the recommendations as thoroughly and as quickly as we can.”

  • Among the key findings of the report, the investigators found that PPS:
  • Maintained incomplete documentation of allegations of sexual conduct.
  • Underreported misconduct.
  • Relied on a decentralized response to sexual conduct complaints.
  • Tried to manage complaints with no viable document management system.
  • Failed to define roles and responsibilities for sexual conduct complaints and investigations.

The report made numerous recommendations for the Board of Education and Superintendent and staff, including: 

  • Improve the Sexual Conduct Prevention and Identification Training for PPS employees, volunteers, and students.
  • Improve training for those investigating sexual conduct complaints.
  • Develop and implement an adult/student boundaries policy and revise the PPS administrative directive related to a finding of sexual conduct. 
  • Implement a centralized tracking system to document all sexual conduct complaints.
  • Discontinue the practice of entering into separation agreements that restrict disclosure of possible sexual conduct by former employees.
  • Work with the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) to change certain contract provisions to adequately address sexual conduct complaints and better protect students.
  • Designate a liaison between the Portland Police Bureau and the district for cases involving allegations of sexual conduct by a PPS employee.
  • Lobby the Oregon Legislature to improve statutory protections for students.
  • Lobby to shorten the Oregon Teacher Standard and Practices Commission’s timelines for investigating educators.

Together, Board leadership and the Superintendent will consider the findings and recommendations and develop a plan and action steps that will critically examine and revise policies and practices addressing the systemic, leadership, and performance gaps cited in the report.  

The investigation, which included close to 100 interviews and a review of thousands of documents, was conducted by Bob Weaver and Joy Ellis, principals at the law firm Garvey Schubert Barer, and Norm Frink, retired Chief Deputy District Attorney for Multnomah County.  

Source: Portland Public Schools Board of Education

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