After only recently learning of a complaint two years ago against a Lincoln Middle School teacher charged with sexually molesting five of his female students, Santa Monica school officials plan to consider potential policy changes regarding notification of such allegations.
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District officials were informed through a letter earlier this month that a parent of a Lincoln Middle School student had complained of improper conduct by teacher Thomas Arthur Beltran in March 2006, said Mike Matthews, district assistant superintendent for human resources.
The revelation came after the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office charged Beltran, 60, on May 6th with eight counts of lewd acts on a child, three counts of continuous sexual abuse and three counts of sexual penetration of a foreign object on a child under 14.
Los Angeles resident Beltran, who has taught at Lincoln Middle School for 20 years and worked in the school district for 30 years, has pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains in custody in lieu of $3.3 million bail. If convicted, Beltran could face life in prison.
In the 2006 letter, made available to the district by the Santa Monica Police Department, then-Lincoln Middle School principal Kathy Scott said the student reported that she “felt uncomfortable being in Beltran’s class because of the way he touched her.” School administrators responded to the complaint by transferring the student from Beltran’s class and talking to the teacher about his physical contact with students, Scott wrote.
Scott said that when she met with Beltran about the accusation the teacher was “shocked” at the complaint and felt that his actions had been misinterpreted, but she asked him to refrain from touching students.
“I instructed Mr. Beltran to not touch any of the female students in his classroom in order to protect himself from any further misinterpretation,” Scott said in the letter. “Mr. Beltran was in total agreement with my request.”
Matthews said both Child Protective Services and the police department were notified of the 2006 complaint.
“The principal [Scott] certainly did notify the authorities — she didn’t keep [the information] to herself,” Matthews said of the school’s response.
But after some district leaders expressed concern that they were only recently notified of the initial investigation, school board members plan to consider policy changes at upcoming meetings concerning dealing with child molestation allegations and the notification process. The district’s current policy is that when school administrators are informed of a child abuse allegation, they are obligated to contact either Child Protective Services or police, said Matthews.
Police investigated the accusation and forwarded the case to the district attorney’s office, but prosecutors determined that there was a lack of evidence to file criminal charges, Matthews said.
“Police presented us the case and we reviewed it, but we could not file charges because of insufficient evidence at the time,” said district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison.
The 2006 complaint was included in the charges filed against Beltran May 6th, Robison said.
Some district leaders and parents said they were disappointed to have only now learned of the complaint two years ago through a letter released following Beltran’s arrest, and not when the incident actually occurred.
“The bottom line is that they didn’t inform the school board,” said Board of Education president Oscar de la Torre. “It’s upsetting to me because if a more thorough investigation and more effective communication had happened in 2006 we probably would’ve avoided all of this and saved some young women from suffering humiliation.”
School leadership has changed since the 2006 complaint, as Scott was later replaced by current principal Tristan Komlos and district superintendent Dianne Talarico took over for John Deasy, who left for a similar position in another district.
Matthews said he has met with Scott and other school leaders to try and determine why school board members and parents were not informed of the initial investigation.
“I’m communicating with that principal [Scott] and trying to piece all of that together,” Matthews said of the notification process at the time.
Santa Monica police Lt. Darrell Lowe noted that the Santa Monica Police Department conducted an investigation of the 2006 complaint, but it was the district attorney’s office that determined that there was not enough evidence to move forward. Asked why the police department did not notify the school board and parents of the investigation, Sgt. Renaldi Thruston said that criminal charges were not filed at the time.
“It’s not standing protocol to inform the public of a case that’s not being filed,” Thruston said.
Police have continued to interview additional people who have come forward and, after investigating the information, they will present their findings to the district attorney’s office for additional filing consideration, Lowe said.
School board members plan to address potential changes the district should make when handling alleged child abuse cases. The district regularly reexamines its policies when certain issues come forward, Matthews said.
Among the potential changes are having some students be interviewed about the particular case and having any complaints or allegations be listed in the employee’s file, de la Torre said.
Harry Keiley, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, said he encourages the district to involve the teachers union when considering any policy changes on the issue.
“The teachers association looks forward to working with the parents, teachers and staff to ensure that the safety of all children is our collective top priority,” Keiley said.
De la Torre said school board members plan to work with the teachers union in the effort, as they want to balance both the rights of teachers and students. The potential policy changes would affect all district employees, Matthews said.
“I’m confident this process will have the best policy possible emerging from it,” the assistant superintendent said.