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2 removed in school sex cases

Times Staff Writer

Two senior Los Angeles school district administrators have been removed from their jobs for failing to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct against an employee and then clearing him to work at a Watts middle school, where he allegedly molested two additional students.

Local district Supt. Carol Truscott and Scott Braxton, who formerly worked for Truscott, have been relieved of duties and assigned to the central office pending further investigation into how they dealt with former Assistant Principal Stephen Thomas Rooney. Rooney, who is being held on $1-million bail, faces sexual misconduct charges in relation to three current and former Los Angeles Unified School District students.

The moves were announced Tuesday afternoon by Senior Deputy Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, who took charge of the district’s response to the Rooney case Tuesday morning. Supt. David L. Brewer, who was in San Diego viewing schools, did not return telephone calls Tuesday seeking comment.

“There is evidence they did not do what is expected,” Cortines said of Truscott and Braxton. In cases involving alleged sexual misconduct, “we have a responsibility to continue the investigation until we feel that the employee is cleared to be in contact with students. Our policy is clear: Regardless of what the Los Angeles Police Department does and what our own school police do, we have a responsibility to continue the investigation.”

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Rooney was first arrested early last year on charges of brandishing a gun at the stepfather of a former student. District officials immediately reassigned Rooney to a job where he would have no contact with students pending the resolution of the case. During the police inquiry, allegations emerged that Rooney had conducted a long-term sexual relationship with the student starting when she was 15. As The Times reported Monday, police quickly alerted top district officials to the possible relationship. Police and prosecutors eventually concluded that they lacked sufficient evidence to pursue charges, in large part because the alleged victim, who had since turned 18, refused to testify against Rooney.

In the district, communication broke down, said Cortines, who joined the the school system as the No. 2 administrator last month. He said an internal report paints a picture of a disjointed district response throughout. For example, the employee relations office handled the Rooney case on behalf of district headquarters, yet staff members there insist they knew only of the gun charge, Cortines said in an interview and a prepared statement.

On the day of Rooney’s arrest on that charge in February 2007, then-Chief Operating Officer Dan Isaacs, who retired in June, alerted 11 senior officials and Brewer as well as the seven-member school board. But Isaacs did not copy the memo to the employee relations staff, Cortines said. Isaacs’ memo, provided to The Times on Tuesday, was a one-paragraph summary that said the “LAPD is also investigating allegations that he [Rooney] had an unlawful sexual relationship with a minor.”

Cortines said, however, that “Mr. Isaacs’ memo was not that explicit,” adding, however, that it would be wrong to foist blame on a retired employee.

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At the point when Isaacs left, Rooney had not been permitted back at a school site.

One person who received the Isaacs memo, according to district records, was Truscott.

When police decided not to file charges, Truscott and Braxton assigned Rooney to Markham Middle School.

“They will tell you they felt the direction from downtown [headquarters] was unclear,” Cortines said.

In fact, employee relations cleared Rooney to return to work regarding the gun charge, the only issue staff members said they knew about. But neither employee relations nor Truscott made sure that the required internal follow-up took place. Cortines said there was never an internal investigation of any sort until the district hired an outside law firm this year to determine how the case was mishandled.

And although district practices may have become “unclear or fuzzy,” Cortines said, “the district policy, our own district policy, makes it very clear what we should do.”

In March, police arrested Rooney and charged him with molesting a 13-year-old Markham student at his downtown loft apartment. They have since charged him with molesting a second Markham student. Meanwhile, Rooney’s former underage girlfriend, whom he met while teaching at the Foshay Learning Center, testified against him in a preliminary hearing last week.

Truscott presided over one of the eight divisions into which the nation’s second-largest school system is divided. Her South Los Angeles territory included Foshay, Fremont High and Markham, the last three schools where Rooney worked.

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Former district general counsel Kevin Reed called Truscott “an exemplary educator and administrator.” Reed left the district this year to become vice chancellor for legal affairs at UCLA. He added: “It would not be uncommon for local district leadership to take direction from employee relations in this situation.”

On Monday, Truscott said Brewer has directed her to withhold comment pending completion of the investigation. But she has said she would never knowingly do anything to endanger children.

Until Tuesday, Braxton was slated to be principal at the long-awaited Edward R. Roybal Learning Center, originally named the Belmont Learning Complex, scheduled to open next fall. He was managing the setup of that school on the edge of downtown -- an assignment that would go only to a highly regarded administrator. Under Truscott, he had responsibility for administrative assignments, including Rooney’s.

Cortines said Truscott was directly responsible for making sure that an internal investigation of Rooney took place and that Truscott and Braxton were responsible for ensuring that Rooney was cleared of any suspicion. Cortines noted that 75 current employees are on hold in “non-school” positions pending investigations into alleged inappropriate conduct.

One of them apparently is former Foshay Dean Alan Hubbard, who the district said is being investigated by police in connection with the Rooney case. In court last week, the former Foshay student testified that a Foshay staff member she identified as “Hubbard” concealed evidence of the relationship between her and Rooney. She also testified that Hubbard allegedly urged her to recant her admission to police that she had sex with Rooney.

The investigation into how the district handled the Rooney case was conducted by the Los Angeles office of Pillsbury, Winthrop, Shaw, Pittman. A draft report was delivered to the district Monday, but Cortines said he learned of it only Tuesday after demanding a full staff briefing upon reading an account of the Rooney case in The Times.

“I read the newspaper article and then I asked some questions,” Cortines said. He added that the report probably would not be released publicly until it was in final form. A final disposition on Truscott and Braxton has not been made, and other employees also could face discipline, he said.

Cortines said he was immediately setting in motion practices to keep all key district personnel up to date in all current and future such cases.

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howard.blume@latimes.com


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