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Investigation Into PE Teacher Ends In Resignation

Critics say authorities failed to act when allegations of inappropriate behavior with girls first surfaced in 2009
Photo of P.E. teacher, private volleyball league coach Thomas Schatz taken from a 2016-17 Rancho San Justo yearbook.
Hollister School District Superintendent, Lisa Andrew. John Chadwell photo
Hollister School District board member, Rob Bernosky. BenitoLink file photo
Syndee DiDomenico when she was a student at Rancho San Justo Middle School (Photo courtesy of Sydnee DiDomenico)
A recent photo Syndee DiDomenico (Photo courtesy of Sydnee DiDomenico)

A long-time Hollister physical education teacher and private volleyball league coach is off the payroll at Rancho San Justo Middle School in what officially is being called a resignation.

But Thomas M. Schatz would have been terminated if he had not agreed to resign, Lisa Andrew, superintendent of the Hollister School District, told BenitoLink.

No reason for the Jan. 23 resignation was included when Schatz’s abrupt departure was quietly noted in Board of Education meeting documents.

He was paid nearly $50,000 when he resigned, according to school records, without an explanation as to why he received the sum, more than half his yearly salary.

His leaving capped off a nearly yearlong investigation by Andrew, in conjunction with district lawyers, into parents’ concerns about Schatz’s behavior around young girls and what to do about it, according to interviews with school officials knowledgeable about the situation.

The concerns involved students at Rancho, where Schatz also served as athletic director, and girls in his private, multi-county athletic operation, Faultline Volleyball, whose website lists him as its president.

Faultline serves girls in communities from Morgan Hill to Salinas, according to its website, uses gym facilities at many schools in the region and is affiliated with Starlings Volleyball USA, which is part of the U.S. Olympic family’s USA Volleyball organization.

Faultline Youth Sports also has received support from the Community Foundation For San Benito County.

In 2013 and 2014, Schatz was a paid coach for the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District, earning nearly $3,000 for the two seasons, according to official records. He also has coached in Watsonville.

While concerns about Schatz were raised most recently in the spring of 2017 and ignited Andrew’s internal affairs probe, she found that serious allegations about Schatz first surfaced in 2009, when the district and school were under different leadership.

In August of that year, Rancho, HSD, the Hollister Police Department and the San Benito County District Attorney’s office all were alerted to concerns about Schatz’s behavior with young girls via a police report filed by the parents of twin 14-year-old girls at Rancho, according to multiple sources both inside and outside the school district, including one of the alleged victims and her mother.

BenitoLink was unable to learn details about the 2017 concerns, only that they prompted Andrew’s investigation and apparently were voiced by Faultline parents.

While the 2009 police report was taken as a complaint about a possible violation of California Penal Code section 647.6 (A), which defines the crime of “annoying or molesting” a minor, it appears neither HSD, nor police or the district attorney took any action against Schatz.

Concerns about Schatz expressed to BenitoLink do not include allegations of overt sex acts.

Parents who talked with BenitoLink both on the record and not for attribution used words and phrases such as “inappropriate,” “creepy,” “crossed the line,” and “grooming” to describe his behavior in the presence of young girls and, sometimes, parents.

BenitoLink also has obtained copies of emails he sent to girls; a photo that was texted to girls that appears to be a pajama-clad man’s midriff; photos apparently of Schatz sprawled out and laying face-down in what appears to be a hotel hallway; and videos of loud antics while he’s apparently driving a van filled with girls. Parents are in some of the photos.

In an interview with BenitoLink, Schatz said that he has never been charged with anything. He said he did speak with police in April 2017, but nothing came of it.

He called his departure from HSD a mutually agreed upon resignation but declined to respond to a series of written questions from BenitoLink.

“I resigned, there was no action taken against me,” he said.

He acknowledged that his resignation has been reported to the state commission on teacher credentialing, but said that is required when a teacher resigns.

It is unclear whether Schatz was disciplined or admonished in any way by school officials because personnel records are confidential, according to school officials.

However, after the 2009 complaints, he remained on the payroll as a teacher and athletic director and has continued with his Faultline teams.

The three-page letter sent at the time by a mother and father to school and law enforcement officials described about eight months of behavior by Schatz. It ended like this:

“Considering the severity of these incidents, we expect these issues to be handled immediately. If not we will take further action.”

It was signed by Tina and Jeff DiDomenico, parents of the twins. (See letter below)

One of the twins, Sydnee DiDomenico, now 22 and a college student in Los Angeles, told BenitoLink that after police interviewed her and her sister in 2009, she could not understand why Schatz was allowed to continue teaching.

He’d been one of her teachers, and her school’s volleyball coach, since her sixth grade year, she said.

The two families had grown close. She and her sister babysat the Schatz kids, watched the house when they vacationed and walked their dog, according to Sydnee, her mother and the parents’ 2009 letter.

And she and her sister, Morgan, had been teaching assistants when Schatz ran his own summer camp on the grounds of Rancho San Justo, she said.

It was during the 2009 camp experience when the alleged inappropriate behavior took place, she said, although her parents’ letter says it began in January 2009 when Schatz seemed to change.

“I feel great that he is not teaching there anymore, but it is hard [to believe] that it took this long for him to be kicked out,” Sydnee said.

“I don’t think he should be in any kind of environment with kids at all, and he should not have any type of teaching license,” the Cal State Northridge political science major said.

Shortly after his election last spring to the Hollister School District Board of Education, parents approached trustee Rob Bernosky with concerns about Schatz. They had filed their own police report, Bernosky told BenitoLink.

He said that after making preliminary inquiries that suggested a problem, he brought the concerns to Andrew’s attention and she immediately launched an internal investigation.

He credited the Didomenicos with doing the right things at the time, calling them “heroes.”

Former Rancho principal Elaine Klauer was also involved, documenting everything, according to a district source who asked not to be named. At the time, Klauer did not get the backing of the district administration to do anything about the situation, according to the same source.

“As a parent, it is shocking to me that when reported behavior like this occurred, in essence nothing was done about it. There is no plausible explanation to me how a school district didn’t act on this,” Bernosky said.

He noted that Schatz was the lead negotiator for the teacher union, and added, “it would be very interesting to see whose hands touched this back then.”

In the meantime, Andrew’s probe included getting a copy of the most recent police report. Late last summer, when she received a copy of the 2009 DiDomenico police report, she acted quickly.

Early in the 2017-18 school year, Schatz was placed on administrative leave from his approximately $85,000 a year teaching position. He never returned to the classroom.

“We thoroughly investigated and we acted appropriately,” Andrew said.

Sydnee DiDomenico said that after telling her mother about the camp incidents and reporting them to police in 2009, she never spoke to Schatz again or had anything to do with him.

Her mother, she said, was stunned and shocked, in no small measure because Schatz had become a close and trusted family friend.

Tina DiDomenico, 52, also expressed relief that Schatz is no longer at Rancho. It was she who first went to school and police officials about Schatz, she said.

“It’s wonderful,” she said, “I am the one who spearheaded this. Tom Schatz crossed many lines with my daughters in junior high years ago. They were confused. They didn’t understand because they babysat for him; he was just grooming [them]. He would call them on their phones; he’d try to engage. I would have to tell him not to and he would say that it was PE-related.

“I feel like [officials] put all of the children in danger by not taking action against Tom Schatz when he clearly crossed the line,” she said.  

After sending a detailed letter to school officials and filing a police report, DiDomenico withdrew from the matter. At the time, she was dealing with a serious medical issue, and the stress of both was too much, she said.

But she told school officials that she’d tell every parent she knew about Schatz’s alleged behavior, she said.

That behavior, according to the DiDomenicos’ letter and recent comments to BenitoLink by Sydnee and Tina DiDomenico, included allegations of sexually charged innuendo, talking about his lack of self-esteem, incessant texting to the twins, invitations to play golf with him, repeated use of the F-word in front of children and requests for her daughters to send him photos of themselves for his cell phone contact list.

It was Sydnee DiDomenico who gave BenitoLink a detailed account of that behaviour, which, she said, mirrors what’s in the 2009 police report, identified as Case Number HG0902702.

During the summer camp at Rancho it was customary for the young teaching assistants’ lunch preferences to be listed on a wall-mounted white board, and on the day in question Sydnee was helping.

“I remember he was asking everybody what they wanted for lunch. I was standing right next to him by the door. I had the marker and I began to write what I wanted, just the type of sandwich.”

But before she had a chance to write anything, she said, “He put his hand on top of my hand and wrote what he wanted on the board.”

And that, she said, was one word: dildo.

She said the boys in the group began to giggle but she didn’t understand.

“I honestly had no idea what it meant.”

The word remained on the board that day, she said.

On the way home from camp, she told her mother what had happened.

“She was completely speechless, shocked; we were in the car and she didn’t even know what to say. I kept asking, ‘Mom, what does it mean?’”

She was equally stunned and confused, she said, when she found out.

But the dildo incident was not the only thing that happened that day to be included among her allegations to police.

Later on, outside on school grounds, she told BenitoLink, Schatz apparently found what Sydnee described as a pornographic magazine. Exhibiting it, he proceeded to taunt her with suggestions that she had brought it to school and he told other students she’d done so to share it with them, according to Sydnee.

And still later, he offered young boys in the group money to kiss Sydnee and her sister, according to the twin. At least one boy did approach them with money in his hand, she recalled.

Additionally, according to her parents’ letter, Schatz and another teacher habitually encouraged Sydnee to give a boy “a kiss or an Eskimo kiss and that they would even pay her $5.00 to do this.”

All of this was reported to her mother, prompting Tina DiDomenico’s Aug. 18, 2009 letter to school officials and the police report five days later, on a Sunday.

“We seemingly missed this completely and we potentially put young ladies at risk for over a decade. It weighs heavily on me,” said Bernosky, who is now a candidate for the San Benito County Board of Supervisors.

“We finally took care of it. I am very proud of being part of the solution . . . I ran on the promise of protecting our children.”

Bernosky added, “After so many people had complained about behavior both in more current times and years past, it was obvious that the district had to significantly investigate this matter. I think before it came to any firm conclusion on our end, the teacher resigned his position. I can’t address why this situation lingered for around a decade, but once the current board was made aware via those parents that contacted me, we had the district fully involved. The parents deserve credit for stepping forward and making sure we acted on their concerns. The school board and district administration expended resources appropriately in investigating this situation, which probably helped end it sooner than it might have.”

In the future, he said, he hopes matters such as this are informed by the advice, “when you see something, say something.”

 

Note: Letter (PDF) from Tina DiDimenico is posted below.

PDF or other file: 
About:
Jack Foley (jackmfoley)

Jack Foley is a veteran journalist on the BenitoLink team. Foley is a Pulitzer co-winner for the San Jose Mercury News staff’s coverage of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. He was also nominated for a Pulitzer by the Center for Public Interest Law for a highly-lauded series that exposed California’s lax policing of bad doctors. He is an experienced investigative reporter who worked for the San Jose Mercury News for more than 20 years. Foley covered San Benito County news on and off throughout his professional career. In addition to his more than three decades in journalism as a reporter, photojournalist and editor, Foley also has taught news writing at Gavilan College, worked in the nonprofit, affordable housing field, including in San Benito County, and has done high level public affairs work for NASA.

Comments

If it does not already exist, it's obvious to me that some entity - either the County Office of Education and/or School Districts - need to establish an enforceable Code of Conduct for all their employees and volunteers. 

If all we have is the criminal code, nothing happens until the problem gets to a level of criminal culpability that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  Short of that people are often allowed to resign and even given references so they can move to another job in far too many cases throughout the state. 

According to the LA Times a few years ago, many large California cities they have teachers sitting around because they cannot be fired and the schools dare not let them near the students.

A Code of Conduct should be written to deter bad behavior and repeat offenders from the start with appropriate and clearly stated rules and consequences up to and including dismissal.  No payoffs!

There is no reason to have a all or nothing system, criminal prosecution is always after the fact when it's too late.  A Code of Conduct can nip bad behavior in the bud and provide the tool to get rid of bad apples.

I challenge the county, school districts, administrators, and the unions to actually put child safety first and I also challenge the parents and guardians to refuse to accept less.

Marty Richman

A Code of Ethics does exist as promulgated by the National Education Association (NEA), but I'm not a lawyer or educational professional so my view is that the statement exists as purely aspirational points of guidance. The statement becomes specious when the teachers union, administrators, arbitration intermediaries and lawyers assume their positions to protect the rights of teachers, minimize liabilities to school administration and finally protect the rights of students from a wide spectrum of abuses to which they may be subjected by ostensibly mentally ill teachers preying on the youth they are supposed to protect. 

NEA Code of Ethics     http://www.nea.org/home/30442.htm

I agree that, especially in this case, the teacher should have been removed or reassigned pursuant to the law and subjected to appropriate disciplinary Sexual Abuse Awareness Training. But again, I'm not a lawyer and everyone deserves due process...though I can express that if my kids were in that situation, due process might include some sort of physical violence against the alleged pervert. Not legal or politically correct to express that, but as a parent I would do whatever it takes to protect my kid from harm. 

Submitted by (Uno) on

This is inappropriate behavior to be happening at school. I myself was sexually abused as a child. And till this day it taunts me. I wish this p.o.s goes to prision and gets dealt with. And if for some reason justice is not serve KARMA will get him.

Submitted by (Alan) on

Seems to me the million dollar question here is who actually tried to protect this individual? The people responsible for dragging there feet should be held accountable. Any school official who didn't follow up properly should be terminated and also not allowed to continue as an educator. An individual capable of acts like this should create great concern among his superiors in the workplace. A system that leaves something like this unchecked for that many years is a cause of great concern. Who was responsible for the delay in action ??? We need their resignations as well.

Submitted by (E.M.) on

I can't believe that my old P.E. teacher would ever do something like this. He was really funny and a joy to be around. I really misjudged him, huh?

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