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O.C. Board of Education to consider investigating member’s emails about sexual orientation

An Orange County Board of Education trustee plans to ask his colleagues to order an investigation of the conduct of a fellow board member after learning of emails the member sent inquiring about a county employee’s sexual orientation and referring to gays as “Sodomites.”

Any investigation of trustee Robert Hammond, who represents District 1, would require a majority vote of the five-member board if it takes up the matter at its meeting Wednesday at the Orange County Department of Education headquarters in Costa Mesa.

“What’s being asked for is the determination as to whether the conduct of a trustee has exposed the department for potential litigation,” trustee David Boyd, who plans to request the investigation, told the Daily Pilot on Wednesday.

Robert Hammond

Orange County Board of Education Trustee Robert Hammond could face an investigation after a colleague learned of emails he sent inquiring about a county employee’s sexual orientation.

(Orange County Board of Education)
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“To my knowledge, no lawsuits have been filed related to Mr. Hammond’s conduct, but the board and the department need to get ahead of this problem before it becomes a liability,” Boyd said in an earlier statement. “But more importantly, we need to insure that all of our employees are treated with the respect that they deserve.”

If there is an investigation, the board would decide who would conduct it, Boyd added.

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Boyd, who represents District 2, said he became aware of Hammond’s emails after another person obtained them through a public records request to the Department of Education.

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“Does this problem go further than what we’ve discovered through the public records act? That’s what we’re hoping to determine,” Boyd told the Daily Pilot.

The public records request was made March 31 by Susan Mercer of Orange, according to a copy of the request that the department provided Wednesday evening. She asked for all emails that Hammond and board member Ken Williams exchanged with department staff from July 1, 2012, to Jan. 31, 2016.

Earlier this week, Boyd said the person who filed the request — whom he would not name — is not an employee of the Department of Education but was considering running for a seat on the board a few months ago.

In one email acquired through the records request, Hammond wrote to a Department of Education employee in April 2014: “I hope you don’t mind, but I plan on asking you about your sexual orientation publicly during our next board meeting.”

Boyd, who has been on the board for six years, said he doesn’t recall Hammond asking about an employee’s sexuality during a meeting.

“I don’t have any history on what took place beyond what the emails said, whether something took place behind the scenes,” Boyd said.

Hammond said in an email to the Daily Pilot on Wednesday that his email to the employee was regarding the California Healthy Kids Survey and a question that asks seventh- and ninth-graders for their sexual orientation. He said he was addressing his concerns about that question, which he considers inappropriate.

In another email obtained through the records request, this one from last June, Hammond ended a message to Williams with “PS – The Supreme Court ruled (5-4) that Sodomites can now be married!”

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Hammond said Wednesday that he was merely stating a fact.

In a Board of Education news release, Laura Kanter, director of policy, advocacy and youth programs for the LGBT Center OC in Santa Ana, stated that asking any employee about his or her sexual orientation is a “wildly inappropriate and outrageous violation of their right to privacy.”

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits harassment and discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation, including derogatory comments, slurs and jokes.

“Mr. Hammond’s tone is alienating to multiple groups, not only the LGBT community,” Kanter said. “Trustee Hammond’s ignorance and threatening behavior create an unsafe and hostile work environment for other board members and OCDE employees.”

In an email to the Daily Pilot, Department of Education communications officer Ian Hanigan noted the concerns raised about Hammond’s 2014 email to the department employee and said, “Staff immediately addressed the remark with the board member, discussing departmental standards of conduct and civility.”

“The Orange County Department of Education strives to ensure a safe, caring and courteous work environment, and we are committed to the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and respect for all employees,” Hanigan said.

Before being elected to the Board of Education in 2012, Hammond earned a degree in broadcast communications with a minor in religion from the University of La Verne in 1991 and began a teaching career in 1993. He has taught special education, English immersion and teacher training. He is running for reelection to the board this year.

Former trustee Liz Parker, a Costa Mesa resident who left the board in 2014 after 32 years, said there had been friction between Boyd and Hammond in the past.

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She said that during her time on the board, Boyd supported grants from federal and state governments for mental health services geared toward children of the LGBT community.

On the other hand, she said she remembers Hammond’s opposition to Assembly Bill 1266 — allowing students to use male or female bathrooms in public schools based on their gender identity — as it was about to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2013.

Wednesday’s board meeting will begin at 10 a.m. at 200 Kalmus Drive, Costa Mesa.

Chan writes for Times Community News.

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