How Helix High handled its sex scandals - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

How Helix High handled its sex scandals

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Three staffers at Mar Vista High were arrested on sex charges, but Mar Vista is not the first local high school to have issues with inappropriate relationships between students and teachers.

Years ago, Helix High dealt with four teachers who were convicted of sex crimes involving students.

Band teacher Frank Palumbo pleaded guilty to having sex with a student. Music teacher Ashley Kahal pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a student. Geography teacher Garry Wilcox pleaded guilty to having sex with a student in a hotel room, and business teacher Jeff Wenham pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of committing a lewd act on a minor who was also a student.

The Helix High arrests took place over a two-year period, leaving the charter school's principal in shock.

"I don't think there was any indication in any of these employees that you could have stepped back and said - oh yeah, I could have told you that was going to occur. If it had - we wouldn't have employed them," said Doug Smith, former Helix High principal.

The scandal ended up costing principal Doug Smith his job, but before leaving he is credited with starting the process that quickly turned the school around.

Neal Trautman from the National Institute of Ethics was called in to help Helix High get back on track and that started with some obvious changes.

Teachers could no longer be alone with students. Teachers can no longer do things that in the past decades were never given a second thought, like giving a student a ride home.

Trautman also said an environment needs to be created in which students feel comfortable talking.. An environment where teachers aren't afraid to report other teachers they suspect are crossing the line. He also said administrators need to make employees feel special - not like victims.

"So the leadership of any school needs to create an atmosphere where people feel appreciated. Then it's very difficult to rationalize betraying this school, the children and betray the parents of a community," said Trautman.

The employees accused of misconduct at Mar Vista are no longer at the school. The district said ti will take a closer look at its policy, but so far no specific changes have been announced.

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