Former Palo Alto High School English teacher Kevin Sharp recently resigned after an outside investigation found that he had engaged in “grooming” a Paly alumna for a potential sexual relationship after she graduated in 2014 and turned 18.
Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) settled with Sharp for $150,000 in exchange for his resignation, which was made effective Oct. 31. This settlement, which was approved by the Board of Education on Oct. 27, was signed by both PAUSD Superintendent Max McGee and Sharp.
The agreement states that neither party admitted to any “wrongdoing, violation of the law or breach of any agreement.”
Currently, there are no charges against Sharp, although PAUSD has reported the case to the California Commision on Teacher Credentialing, the Palo Alto Daily News reported. Sharp taught at Paly from 2004 until last year in the English department as a film literature and creative writing teacher. He went on leave this year due to the allegations of “grooming.”
[pullquote speaker=”” photo=”” align=”left” background=”on” border=”all” shadow=”on”] There were ‘credible and concerned reports’ that suggested that a ‘consensual relationship may have occurred after graduation.'[/pullquote]
On Sept. 26, 2014, the student’s parents met with Dr. Scott Bowers, the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for PAUSD, and Paly Principal Kim Diorio. The information provided by the parents alleging their daughter’s sexual activity with Sharp prompted Bowers to initiate a personnel investigation.
PAUSD hired two different law firms, which came to different conclusions. The finding of “grooming” by the Lozano Smithlaw firm, based in Walnut Creek, is what led to Sharp’s resignation. An allegation that the firm focused on was the close proximity between thegraduation from Paly and the alleged sexual relationship that ensued. The firm attempted to uncover what kind of relationship the two had before the reported sexual relationship occurred, which was after Julia had turned 18. After the investigation, the firm could not come to a “definitive conclusion regarding the nature of [the] relationship” due to “lack of firsthand observation or other factual evidence.” However, there were “credible and concerned reports” that suggested that a “consensual relationship may have occurred after graduation.”
Another allegation considered by the firm was whether Sharp had “desensitized” Julia during her time at Paly to make her more inclined to have a sexual relationship after she graduated. Despite Julia denying “repeatedly and adamantly that nothing ever occurred to her while she was a student to make her feel threatened, objectified, or unsafe,” according a Lozano Smith report, and that Sharp had “at no time… act[ed] inappropriately toward her as a student,” the finding was that it was more than likely that the relationship the two shared was much “more friendly than either admitted during interviews.” However, the attorney report noted that “the preponderance of evidence does not support a conclusion that any behavior rose to a level of sexual harassment… or unwelcome behavior.” The firm did conclude that there is a “credible strong suspicion there may have been behavior or interactions that desensitized the student while she was a student to the potential of a future sexual relationship.”
However, this finding contradicts the result of another law firm, Fagen Friedman and Fulfrost, which declared in its report that “it was not possible… to reach a definitive conclusion that such behavior rose to the level of sexual harassment as defined under federal law.” In addition, it was noted that “review of available records did not provide evidence that participation or performance in any educational activities were diminished as a result of the sexual harassment.”
The Fagen firm recommended that the district continue its “development of proactive and preventive efforts to ensure compliance with Title IX,” a legal framework that prohibits various forms of sexual harassment including “sexual advances, and other verbal, nonverbal or physical conduct of sexual nature.”
As of now, Sharp and the district have come to a mutual agreement that neither party will file any future claims based on the information that is currently known, according to the Palo Alto Daily News. All derogatory information about this incident will not be disclosed to prospective employees unless they conduct a background search on Sharp or if PAUSD is required to do so.