Paly teacher resigns following sexual-harassment case | News | Palo Alto Online |


Paly teacher resigns following sexual-harassment case

District settles with Kevin Sharp for $150,000

A Palo Alto High School teacher has received $150,000 from the school district in exchange for his resignation following accusations that the teacher engaged in inappropriate behavior with a former student, according to an agreement obtained by the Weekly.

The Board of Education approved the resignation agreement for Kevin Sharp on Oct. 27, with Sharp's resignation effective Oct. 31. Superintendent Max McGee signed the agreement on Oct. 21 and Sharp on Nov. 1. The agreement states that Sharp, who was on paid sick leave this semester, would remain so through Oct. 31.

Sharp, who taught English at Paly since 2004, was the subject of a district personnel investigation and separate sexual-harassment investigation conducted by a district law firm in 2014 and 2015 into allegations that he had "groomed" a former female student to facilitate a consensual sexual relationship that began after graduation.

The allegations against Sharp were first brought to the district's attention in September 2014 by the parents of the female student. They informed Paly Assistant Principal Kathie Laurence that their daughter, who had turned 18 her senior year, had told them she engaged in a consensual sexual relationship with Sharp beginning a week after her graduation, according to documents provided by the district.

Sharp declined to be interview for a previous story on the investigations, but his attorney, Jim Walsh, called the allegations "baseless accusations" and the district investigation "unnecessary."

"Mr. Sharp, a well-respected and experienced teacher at Palo Alto High School, has been the victim of false rumors and accusations. Baseless accusations of a former student's ex-boyfriend led to an unnecessary investigation, which then exonerated Mr. Sharp," Walsh wrote in an email to the Weekly on Sept. 9.

A July 21 formal "Notice of Unprofessional Conduct" issued by the district stated that it was more likely than not that Sharp engaged in "grooming" activities with the student that "facilitated the consummation of a sexual relationship soon after graduation."

"The evidence leads us to conclude," the two-page notice said, "that the allegations have greater credibility than your denial." (This conflicted with the conclusion that attorneys from district-hired firm of Fagen Friedman & Fulfrost reached in their Title IX investigation — that there was a not a preponderance of the evidence that Sharp cultivated a close relationship with the student prior to graduation or had a sexual relationship with her afterwards.)

"You have failed to meet your obligations to provide students with a safe educational environment and have exploited your position of power to establish the basis for a sexual/romantic relationship with a former student," the Notice of Unprofessional Conduct stated. "Moreover, your behavior may have created a hostile environment for this and other students, negatively impacting students and may constitute a violation of the District's prohibition of sexual harassment."

The letter directed Sharp to cease the conduct and comply with five "directives," including behaving professionally, maintaining a professional distance when interacting with students, not meeting female students off campus, limiting meetings with female students on campus to visible settings and not engaging in inappropriate relationships with students and/or former students.

"Should you fail to comply fully with the directives detailed above, the District may take other disciplinary actions against you, up to and including dismissal," the letter said.

The resignation agreement states that neither party is admitting any "wrong doing, violation of the law or breach of any agreement."

"The Parties acknowledge and agree that they are each entering into this Agreement to buy their peace and avoid further costs and expense and because Mr. Sharp had independently decided some time ago to leave the employ of the District," the agreement states.

The agreement also includes both a non-disparagement clause and a "mutual general release" that states "Mr. Sharp and the District mutually release, acquit, and forever discharge each other and their respective agents and employees, from any and all claims, expenses, debts, demands, costs, and other actions or liabilities of every nature, whether known or unknown, whether in law or in equity, which the other has had or may claim to have as a result of Mr. Sharp's employment with the district.

"The Parties agree that neither Mr. Sharp nor the District shall have the right to file any lawsuit or institute any other action or legal proceedings of any type based upon, connected with, or in any manner arising out of all claims, known or unknown against the other party, related to Mr. Sharp's employment with the District," the agreement states.

Palo Alto Unified also agreed to provide only limited information about Sharp — the title of the last assignment he held, the dates of his employment, salary and number of accrued sick days — if a prospective employer contacts the district.

The district did, however, report the circumstances involving Sharp to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, the agreement states.

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36 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 12, 2015 at 10:09 am

While I hate to see money spent this way, it is a relief to see this resolved by Mr. Sharp leaving the district. His behavior was wrong and offensive. Hopefully he will not teach again somewhere else. Thank you to the girls parents and to the Weekly for uncovering and reporting on this.

15 people like this
Posted by Maybe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2015 at 10:19 am

It sounds as though he was a popular and well-liked teacher. [Portion removed.]

16 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2015 at 10:45 am

Any HR manager worth his/her salt will Google this guy. His teaching days are numbered.

24 people like this
Posted by Vini
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 12, 2015 at 10:47 am

the teachers should know it better whom to have relationship with. Why pick on a doe eyed 18 y/o who is so much "in love " with you? In my profession where so many of us see younger clients its a very common norm to have younger generation have a crush on you but as an adult one should know it better. Definitely he is a no no for the co-ed or all girls schools. parents-educate the kids to make better decisions -talk to them about the school and what NOT to do if a set of prying eyes falls on them.

28 people like this
Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 12, 2015 at 10:48 am

Money well spent.

37 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 12, 2015 at 11:21 am

Agree. Thanks to Ken Dauber and Kim Diorio for making sure this man is gone for good. [Portion removed.] Kudos to The Weekly, Kim Diorio and Ken Dauber. Lumps of coal to everyone else, especially Max McGee, Fagen Friedman, Lozano Smith, the rest of the board, and Scott Bowers.

30 people like this
Posted by No more FFF
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2015 at 11:49 am

Fagen Friedman & Fulcroft should never be used again. They are not worth the money they were paid both in this case and in multiple OCR-related cases. They have been responsible for major fiascos and factually incorrect statements and have seriously misled the school board and administration.

They are a substandard outfit and should be dumped. Forever.

39 people like this
Posted by Robert Smith
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 12, 2015 at 11:51 am

I hate this sort of thing happening based on innuendo.

There was no evidence or even accusation of illegality [portion removed due to inaccurate statement.] The young lady herself did not participate in any accusations and had no complaints.

I feel that some of our school-board members have gone to far in this matter but best forgotten.

While the district has lost a good teacher, the entire matter has progressed to the point where the solution adopted is best for every one. I wish the teacher the best of luck in finding a new position, and we can suggest that he try harder to avoid situations that might lead him to unfair and false accusations in the future.

5 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 12, 2015 at 12:00 pm

[Post removed.]

53 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 12, 2015 at 12:09 pm

This is really a sad thing for Kevin Sharp. I'd like to know why everyone seems to be taking all the responsibility off the 18-year old. Get real here!

51 people like this
Posted by Palygradsmom
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 12, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Mr. S was my two children's favorite English teacher at Paly. He wrote them fine recommendation letters too. This situation is sad if it turns out to parallel John Proctor in The Crucible where children are jangling the keys to the kingdom with wheels within wheels within Salem/Palo Alto village. Witch hunt anyone?

52 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2015 at 12:12 pm

> Any HR manager worth his/her salt will Google this guy. His teaching days are numbered.

Yeah, why he should have held out to continue teaching or gotten much more in compensation.
$150,000 is nothing after taxes and lawyer's fees. Ruining someone's life over what amounts
to a triviality blown way out of proportion is cruel and unusual punishment.

The idea that the PAO colluded in assassinating this person's character by name and photo is
an abuse of journalistic muscle. Has anyone heard of due process, innocent until proven
guilty, journalistic integrity?

To retroactively go back and charge "grooming", which could mean anything or nothing, after
not being happy with an initial investigation is so beyond the pale, as much as anything two
adults did or did not do.

Assassinating someone's character and maybe ruining their career is malicious. Claiming a
hostile workplace is nonsense. How does that even compute? Punishment should fit the
crime, not whatever you can conjure up in the public imagination.

37 people like this
Posted by Excuse me
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 12, 2015 at 12:24 pm

Some of the above, very harsh comments, appear to be based on agreeing with the accusations only. Otherwise, if those persons with these comments had actual facts to find this teacher guilty, they would hopefully have spoken to authorities. If this teacher was found quilty, without a doubt, then comments of this nature could perhaps be appropriate to vent. This man's life as a teacher or otherwise has been permanently tarnished. If not quilty, hopefully the students involved with feel some level of remorse. Luckily some of the comments reflect the civil and non-vigilante values that at least were around in Palo Allto for past generations.

59 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 12, 2015 at 12:27 pm

At some point, the law is the law. If we think that it is inappropriate for a teacher to have a sexual relationship with a former student for one, two, or three years after a certain student age, or after termination of teacher-student relationship, then that should be written into the law or employment policy.

In physician-patient relationships, it is considered inappropriate to terminate a professional relationship to enable a romantic relationship. This is written into at least some medical group by-laws. This codification makes it enforceable.

What if the teacher had married the student before or after onset of the sexual relationship?

There is a current social trend to label the sort of teacher-student as de-facto predatory. The conduct was certainly unwise or stupid, on the part of both parties. It may have resulted from the initiative of the student more than that of the teacher. The teacher's name is now all over the internet; he has been lynched without breaking the law, and the settlement hardly compensates for that. The girl's name is not even published. The teacher certainly had a breach in good judgement.

Change the school policy. Let us teach our daughters better; at some point they must be accountable to their own behavior.

11 people like this
Posted by s,bailey
a resident of Portola Valley
on Nov 12, 2015 at 1:07 pm

What is going on out there?

21 people like this
Posted by enough!
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 12, 2015 at 1:42 pm

Community Center Parent: Thank you for your clear, insightful comment. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. Personal responsibility must be taught to our children, and though some things may seem obvious, they need to be clearly stated in employment contracts and personal conduct guidelines.

17 people like this
Posted by Real American
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 12, 2015 at 3:04 pm

I guess 18 year olds aren't yet adults. Cut the cord already!

10 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 12, 2015 at 3:19 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@parent - If everything that was inappropriate had to be codified into a law, there would billions of laws. If the head of an organization, public or private, thinks an employee is behaving inappropriately, just fire them and move on. Unfortunately the power of unions mean you get to have sdex with your students AND get paid a $150k bonus to leave.

33 people like this
Posted by palygradsmom
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 12, 2015 at 3:29 pm

As a high school English teacher for 25 years, believe me I held Paly's humanities teachers under a microscope when they taught me son and daughter. Absolutely no complaints here. I hope that Mr. S., my kids' favorite English teacher sues, utilizing the hundreds he's payed per month in union dues. The union will come through as they did for me and my department when we were sexually harassed in San Jose by a cad administrator.

Play parents can be a pieces of work. That is why I never hung out with them, moving away after my son walked across the stage two years ago.

27 people like this
Posted by cashing in
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 12, 2015 at 3:34 pm

Cashing in on an unethical situation. He shouldn't have received ANY taxpayer money!
If the sexual relationship began just after graduation -- IF that is accurate -- it still relates to a teacher/student power imbalance UNLESS they didn't know each other previously (were from other schools, for example).
It is so unfair to the other students when teachers take "favorites" and have their eye on one. Did anyone check whether he wrote recommendations for this girl, for example?!
If you want to be a teacher, respect that one is in a position of trust. We want trustworthy people teaching our children. We don't want scheming, skirt-chasing, distracted persons in such positions in society.

28 people like this
Posted by Anonymous22
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 12, 2015 at 4:40 pm

Anonymous22 is a registered user.

Why are people arguing over this as if he was EITHER A) a good teacher, OR, B) someone who crossed the line? These are not mutually exclusive. In fact, often the people getting away with the worst stuff are the most charming to everyone else.

I seem to recall established doctors at Stanford who were essentially cut off from the rest of their careers for less. There are professional standards, and Sharp seems to have crossed those lines before. It's too bad, but as everyone likes to remind, he's an adult who made his own choices. Teaching staff need to be held to a higher standard than, oh, I waited until graduation. Even if this was the only time he did this, it's one time too many for a teacher. Sorry, if you want to sleep with your young charges, whether 18 or not, teaching us the wrong profession.

I wish the district office had similar standards when it came to lying. The charming usually get away with it, though.

27 people like this
Posted by JLS mom of 2
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Nov 12, 2015 at 8:15 pm

JLS mom of 2 is a registered user.

[Portion removed.]

Good riddance to this teacher who groomed a student for a sexual relationship. Obviously this district needs a lot of professional development on sexual harassment including grooming. [Portion removed.]

44 people like this
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 12, 2015 at 9:19 pm

Nora Charles is a registered user.

Just a few questions. Who suggested that Mr. Sharp was "grooming" the student? Her parents? The former student? A disgruntled boyfriend (that bit wasn't quite clear to me)? If Mr. Sharp did not admit to this, why was he not believed?

As the former, emphasis on former, student is 18, why doesn't her photograph appear here next to the teacher's?

If the student, as an adult, consented to a romantic relationship, why is this even an issue? Should a man's career and reputation be ruined because he entered a consensual relationship with a young adult? I find a weird sort of paternalistic thinking at work here, as if young women are not capable of making decisions.

61 people like this
Posted by Ashamedof PaloAlto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2015 at 9:42 am

Ashamedof PaloAlto is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

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