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Two senior L.A. school district officials resign amid sexual harassment allegations

Two senior L.A. school district officials resign amid sexual harassment allegations
Sexual harassment issues played out at L.A. school district headquarters this month when two senior administrators resigned under pressure. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Two senior administrators have resigned amid allegations that they tolerated a climate of sexual harassment in the procurement division of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

They are George Silva, chief procurement officer, and Quinton Dean, deputy chief procurement officer, The Times has learned. Dean's resignation took effect on Jan. 11, Silva's on Jan. 12.

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L.A. Unified made no announcement, but high-level sources within the district said that Silva and Dean were given the choice of resigning or facing potential dismissal. The sources are not be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Both Silva and Dean started their careers as district employees more than three decades ago. Neither responded to requests for comment.

Silva struck a positive tone in a farewell email to staff.

"At this time, I am happy to report to you that I will be retiring from district services after 35 years of service, effective Friday, Jan. 12, 2018," Silva wrote. "It has been my honor to serve the students, staff and leadership of my beloved school district over the years. I wish peace, heath and blessings upon each and every one of you."

The Times obtained the emails that acknowledged the sudden departures of Silva and Dean in response to a request for public records. District officials provided no documents related to the allegations or an internal investigation. Several sources confirmed that an investigation occurred.

The two administrators are among the latest men to lose their jobs because of past or recent allegations of inappropriate conduct. The burgeoning #MeToo movement has inspired women to step forward to report sexual harassment. Their accounts have pressured institutions, government agencies and companies to take action.

L.A. Unified officials won't confirm the existence of any allegations, but considered the situation serious enough to call in the district's inspector general, sources told The Times.

Insiders familiar with the conclusions said there are multiple allegations of inappropriate conduct or remarks — and that at least one allegation is not recent. Overall, investigators suggested that the two supervisors created or tolerated a work environment in which women sometimes were made to feel uncomfortable or worse.

The district considers such investigations to be permanently confidential unless the Board of Education votes to release the information.

The school board reviewed the findings on Dec. 12 during a portion of a meeting that was closed to the public. Later that day, in open session, the board voted to approve a resolution calling for top officials to review sexual harassment policies and return with recommendations.

The vote on the resolution — on the same day that board members reviewed the Silva/Dean investigation — may have been coincidental.

The sexual-harassment resolution had been brought forward by board member Nick Melvoin. During the meeting, Melvoin said that he had become concerned after being told that no sexual-harassment allegations had reached the central unit that handles such complaints since July. Complaints handled at schools are not necessarily tracked centrally, he noted. Without better tracking, he said, it's difficult to get a read on the extent of the problem.

"At this critical cultural moment," he said later, "revisiting district policy seems like the right thing to do."

Board member George McKenna offered another explanation for the lack of recorded allegations: that sexual harassment simply isn't a major problem in district culture. While Melvoin's resolution piggybacks on a hot topic, he said, it may contribute little because administrators already should be investigating cases and taking appropriate action.

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"A lot depends on individuals," he said in an interview. "There are processes in place, but are they always followed?"

One issue under review is who should respond to allegations. At a school, that is probably the principal. In contrast, when allegations involve a student, the district brings in a specially trained team.

Board member Kelly Gonez said she wants to make sure employees know they can contact the district's internal Equal Opportunity Section, under the district's legal office, for help.

"I've seen a need to strengthen our policies so there's a clear and consistent process for reporting and handling these cases," Gonez said. "And ultimately, if misconduct does occur, we need to ensure there are meaningful and timely repercussions."

Silva and Dean started working for L.A. Unified in 1981 and gradually rose through the ranks. Silva, 57, had headed the procurement division since 2013. Part of his role was to make sure that district employees and outside contractors understood L.A. Unified's rules for ethical business conduct. He would lead periodic presentations on the topic and had admirers inside and outside the school system.

UPDATES:

7:15 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with additional information about the district's anti-harassment policies and other background.

This article was originally published at 12:45 p.m.

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