Nov 6 2017

Mark Cowherd, a Piedmont High history teacher, resigned shortly after a display of Piedmont parent outrage at the October 25, 2017 School Board meeting. News media were invited to amplify that outrage and broadcast it widely. Now that the spectacle has begun to pass, and our community attempts to heal, we write to encourage us all to reflect on how our community handled this matter.

As parents, we care about the safety of our students. We are proud that four students felt empowered to voice their concerns about this teacher. In the future, we want other students to bring forward concerns about similar conduct. People around town say that students stay quiet due to fears – of retaliation in the grades they may receive or of unwanted exposure if they speak up. We worry about chilling student complaints for a different reason. Students may well have absorbed the lesson that, if they feel uncomfortable about a teacher’s conduct and lodge a complaint about it, the situation may not simply be reasonably corrected, but the teacher, one way or the other, will be summarily removed and publicly humiliated. Students may choose to stay silent to avoid the enormity of this burden.

The community must also consider the ripple effects on teaching staff. Although this particular teacher engaged in behavior uncommon in our District, other teachers may nevertheless distance themselves from students or parents. It is easy to imagine teachers feeling wary, concerned that a student’s or parent’s response to a teacher’s conduct could trigger the parent community into a fiery humiliation.

This activated parent group attacked our Administrators and our elected School Board representatives, all of whom, we believe, choose to serve our educational community because they care deeply about students and education. Parent demands, without regard to the law and without knowing all of the evidence gathered through both the District’s and the Piedmont Police investigations, could undermine District morale and confidence in educating our children going forward.

We do not believe that our school administrators, local police officers and board members, who did not ignore these students’ complaints and had access to all of the facts uncovered through their investigations, which the community at large did not, would protect a sexual “predator” and knowingly put our students at risk.

District Administrators and School Board representatives must, and did, comply with the law. After receiving the students’ complaints, the District placed the teacher on administrative leave, investigated the claims, found inappropriate and unprofessional conduct, and took disciplinary action against the teacher (privacy laws prevented the District from detailing what those actions were). The Piedmont Police apparently found no criminal conduct.

Where, as here, the investigations revealed a tenured teacher who had crossed one line (unprofessional and inappropriate conduct, including comments of a sexual nature), but had not crossed another (criminal conduct, such as sexual molestation), the teacher is allowed, under the Education Code Section 44938(a), a 45-day “opportunity to correct his or her faults and overcome the grounds for the charge.” The District provided this teacher his short window to try to redeem himself. During this time, the District monitored the teacher’s classroom to ensure student safety. The Administration also circulated numerous communications encouraging anyone with any complaints to bring them forward.

Without knowing if this teacher succeeded in correcting his conduct or what the District’s decision may have been at the end of these 45 days, which had not yet passed, parent speakers at the October 25, 2017 School Board meeting expressed their anger that Mr. Cowherd had not already been fired. We share people’s disgust about sexual harassment and sexual assault – the news about its prevalence in our society keeps coming – and we, as a society, have a lot to change. But the speakers’ references at the Board meeting to and innuendo about violence, molestation, sexual assault, and Harvey Weinstein far exceeded any allegations we have seen against Mr. Cowherd or what the District and Police investigations found. We further believe that it is both ill-considered and inappropriate to denigrate our representatives for “impotence” when they engaged fully and promptly in necessary due process, including prompt investigations, monitoring student safety, and teacher discipline.

We can all agree that Mr. Cowherd’s conduct betrayed our educational community. At the same time, we must remember to stay honorable and just when defending the honorable and just. The community must now reckon with the consequences of the parent outrage, and rebuild trust in Piedmont.

Barbara Giuffre

Rick Raushenbush, Former School Board Member

Editors Note:  Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Nov 6 2017

Input is sought.

The Planning Commission will be considering revisions to land use regulations related to cannabis provided in Division 17.48 of the City Code at their regularly scheduled meeting on November 13, 2017. The Planning Commission’s responsibility is to make a recommendation that will be considered by the City Council, which is the decision-making body. The City Council is expected to consider the Commission’s recommendation and conduct a first reading of the proposed ordinance on December 4, 2017.

 Documents on the City Website

The agenda for the November 13, 2017 Planning Commission meeting and the staff report to the Commission are available on the City’s website at www.ci.piedmont.ca.us. Current land use regulations related to cannabis are provided in Division 17.48 of the City Code.

“AGENDA ITEM 3. CONSIDERATION OF AN ORDINANCE REVISING THE LAND USE REGULATIONS IN CITY CODE CHAPTER 17 RELATED TO CANNABIS The Commission will hold a hearing to consider an ordinance to revise City Code Chapter 17 regarding the land use regulations related to cannabis. The proposed revisions are in response to Proposition 64, which legalizes and regulates the adult use of non-medical marijuana (recreational marijuana) in California and Senate Bill 94, known as the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA”), which consolidated state laws regarding medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana and introduced more uniform terminology, replacing “marijuana” with “cannabis” and “nonmedical” to “adult-use.” The Commission may take action to make a recommendation of adoption to the City Council. The proposed ordinance is not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to the CEQA Guidelines, California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Chapter 3, sections: 15060(c)(2) (the activity will not result in a direct or reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment); 15060(c)(3) (the activity is not a project as defined in Section 15378); and 15061(b)(3), because the activity is covered by the general rule that CEQA applies only to projects which have the potential for causing a significant effect on the environment. Furthermore, this action is not subject to CEQA pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 26055 (h).”

From the staff report to the Commission:

“PROPOSED REVISIONS TO CITY CODE: It is in the City’s best interest to maintain local control over all cannabis land uses to the fullest extent allowed by law. Although, the City Code currently prohibits all cannabis businesses, it will better serve the public and minimize the potential for confusion regarding the City’s policies by providing updated Code provisions regarding the scope of prohibited conduct and of permissible private cultivation that are consistent with State law. Findings H through Q in the proposed ordinance (Attachment A pages 5-10) list a number of findings that cannabis related activities allowed under MAUCRSA would cause adverse impacts on the public health, safety, and welfare in Piedmont.”

Public Engagement

The opportunity for public input is available throughout this process. Interested members of the public are encouraged to attend the regular meetings at which the Planning Commission and City Council will consider this item.

Questions about the project and requests to receive email notification of activities related to Zoning Code revisions should be directed to Planning Director Kevin Jackson at kjackson@piedmont.ca.gov or (510) 420-3039. Written comments to the Planning Commission on this matter may be submitted care of kjackson@piedmont.ca.gov or by mail to 120 Vista Avenue, Piedmont, CA 94611.

Members of the Piedmont Planning Commission

Roster

Council Liaison: Jennifer Cavenaugh – (510) 428-1442
Eric Behrens
Aradhana Jajodia
Jonathan Levine
Susan Ode
Tom Ramsey
Clark Thiel (Alternate)

 

Nov 5 2017

School Board Meeting: Teacher Aides and The Departure of History Teacher –

October 25, 2017  School Board Meeting –

The School Board meets every 2 weeks, to discuss and make decisions regarding the education of all the schools in the Piedmont Unified School District. The School Board Meeting on October 25 covered the following topics: the best instructional calendar for students, the importance of teaching assistants, a request for a raise, upset parents who expressed their opinions on teacher Mark Cowherd’s inappropriate behavior with students, Mr. Cowherd’s return to school after a 3 week investigation, the H1 Bond update for the new STEAM and Alan Harvey theater, the naming of District facilities, and the options of refinancing a loan.

The first topic regarded what instructional calendar should be followed in the future. It was apparent that there were still a lot of conflicting opinions about what was the best calendar.

As a senior, I greatly appreciate our current instructional calendar, because I can send my first semester grades to colleges earlier than I would have been able to if we still followed the previous instructional calendar. However, this calendar is not just advantageous for seniors. Our current instructional calendar reduces the overall stress of students, since we do not have to worry about studying over Winter Break. Speaking from personal experience, I have found that I have forgotten a lot of the material of my classes when finals are after Winter Break. While this instructional calendar may take some time to get used to, I am confident that this calendar is best for the long run.

The next topic discussed was about  a third grade teacher at Wildwood, who has taught for 18 years. She stressed that teachers assistants (TAs) are imperative to the success of both students and teachers. This teacher’s TA helps her with rotations in math, so that the teacher can focus on two-thirds of the class, while the TA can focus helping one-third of the class. This TA also helps 3 other teachers, and also helps patrol recess. TAs assess and modify lessons to explain the big takeaways to the students they are assigned to. They also go over tests one-on-one, to ensure that the student understands the mistakes he/she made, so that he/she can learn from the mistakes. Students who need TAs the most are actually getting the least amount of help.

Those from the California School Employees Association (CSEA) started out by stating that families move to Piedmont for good education, which can only be obtained when we have qualified teachers through fairness and respect. These employees want equal pay for equal work, instead of favoring teachers who have worked in Piedmont schools for a longer period of time than they have. One Special Education teacher, who works at Piedmont High School, asked to be paid more, since it is a struggle to live in the Bay Area and he goes through a lot to continue doing a job that he loves.

Lisa Sherman, whose daughter is Natalie Stollman, introduced the topic regarding Mr. Mark Cowherd. Four students had come forward to report Mr. Cowherd’s behavior, which included sending inappropriate texts and emails, giving students harassing nicknames, consuming alcohol in front of students, and talking to students about things unrelated to school. She felt that the letter regarding Mr. Cowherd return to the classroom after a 3 week investigation felt like a slap in the face. Stollman originally thought that her complaints, along with the complaints of the 3 other girls who came forward, were taken seriously, and they felt that the situation should have been handled better.

Sherman noted that students are encouraged to speak up, yet the inaction of the School Board makes it even harder for students to speak up, especially when they feel that nothing is being done. Students have always been afraid to speak up due to the intimidating power dynamic.

Esther Rodgers, a parent of 2 boys, teaches her boys to do the right thing, even if it is against their self-interest. She pointed out that this whole Mr. Cowherd situation also impacts the boys, in addition to the girls. She felt that this was detrimental to learning, and that it creates a perception of unfairness for both boys and girls.

Pear Michaels felt that Mr. Cowherd should have been immediately fired so that he would not be able to influence the students, or that he should be on leave until everything is decided. She wondered where the practical support for the students who came forward was.

Hope Salzer found that it was troubling for students to have Mr. Cowherd as a role model. She asked that the school reexamine the school policy.

Kim Hunter, who is an Alameda County District Attorney who deals with domestic violence cases, talked about how the number one thing she teaches her kids is that violence is unacceptable. She said that this is a big deal that should not be at all marginalized.

Janice Sheldon, who was speaking for her daughter Olivia, who had graduated in 2017 and was the first to report Mr. Cowherd’s behavior, said that Olivia had broken down after the recent Euro trip and had gone to the Wellness Center. Olivia was devastated that her voice had not been heard.

Elka Sorenson’s mom spoke about how Elka dropped out of AP European History, despite the fact that she had an A in the class, because she felt uncomfortable in the class environment.

Carol James, who has a daughter who graduated in 2010 and a son who graduated in 2013, talked about how her son had been bullied by Mr. Cowherd. She noted that the data points regarding Mr. Cowherd’s behavior go much further than March of 2017.

Vincent Massullo, a healthcare professional, said that the responsibility of a teacher is super important because they influence the students greatly.

Sarah Pearson, President of the Board of Education, reminded the audience that all this information of these instances regarding Mr. Cowherd must be documented in order to be used and accounted for in the investigation.

The next topic was about naming District facilities, and a new policy governing the naming of District facilities. The Board of Education has all the naming rights for any District building or facility, but community participation is greatly encouraged in this process. Individuals can be recognized for their contributions. If one does inappropriate or immoral things, their name on a plaque can be removed. There is a public meeting before any name is made final. The Board may choose to accept “legacy” gifts.

The next topic discussed had to do with refinancing a loan, and how to save the most amount of money. This loan was will be paid for by Piedmont taxpayers (Capital Appreciation Bond) to rebuild the schools. The options are cab de cab, cab de sib, and doing nothing right now. A big factor in deciding what option to go with is the interest rate. Right now, interest rates are low. One option is to take action now and take advantage of the low rate now, or to wait in hopes of getting a lower interest rate, with the risk of the downward trend changing to an upward trend.

I interviewed Sarah Wozniak, who is the Title IX Director. She attends School Board Meetings regularly, but she also came to this meeting in particular because she knew people were going to talk about their concerns regarding Mr. Cowherd. She felt that this was a very emotional meeting, and she understands why people are confused about the decision to have Mr. Cowherd come back into the classroom after the 3 week investigation. However, she pointed out that the school does not inform the public the punishments doled out to Mr. Cowherd out of privacy for him. She felt that this meeting was good for the parents of the girls, being able to see that the community supports them. Ms. Wozniak is part of the District Team, who plan to follow up on how people are feeling about what happened, and what next steps should be taken. She is interested in working with Voice Cooperative to see what students want to do about how people can or should speak up, because there is still a lot of fear about speaking up.

by Ivana Xu, Piedmont High School Senior

 ~~~~~~~~~

Piedmont Takes A Stand –

On October 25th, 2017, a Piedmont School Board took place in Piedmont City Hall. While this meeting was to discuss the possible refunding of Capital Appreciation Bonds, and a further update on the progress of the new school development, the people of Piedmont swarmed City Hall to discuss the disciplinary action of Mr. Cowherd.

Mr. Cowherd was a Social Studies teacher at Piedmont High School, he taught AP European History, AP US History, and Modern World History. An ongoing investigation regarding the sexual harassment allegations brought against Mr. Cowherd by a previous student at Piedmont High, led to a three week absence in September. This was later followed by his return to the classroom, with an email congratulating him back to the school. Previous rumors spread among the students as to why Mr.Cowherd was gone for three weeks. However, neither Mr. Cowherd nor Piedmont High revealed any insight on the matter.

San Francisco Bay Area CBS had more information on the details about the investigation, including the document that contained the specific allegations made against Cowherd. This list included: Repeatedly asking students to meet personally and privately, touching, grabbing, and/or holding students by their shoulders, heads, elbows, and backs, calling students nicknames that made students feel uncomfortable and harassed, sending inappropriate text messages and emails, consuming alcohol in the presence of students, making inappropriate and unprofessional comments that were interpreted to be sexual in nature, and asking inappropriate and unprofessional personal questions.

However, during the School Board meeting’s public forum many parents and advocates stepped forward complaining and stressing their frustration and irritation that Mr. Cowherd was back teaching.

One of the many speakers was Lisa Sherman. Sherman expressed extreme disappointment especially about welcoming back Mr. Cowherd after three weeks of absence. Not only was the email containing the congratulatory dialogue sent to the current students at PHS (Piedmont High School) the email and letter were sent to the families that brought the allegations. Lisa described this as a “slap in the face.”  She made her case by stating that allowing Mr. Cowherd back into the classroom would make the current students at PHS uncomfortable and most students could feel victimized or bullied, as PHS administration was essentially clearing Mr. Cowherd of all charges.

The hearsay in the community was that girls won’t speak up about harassment, that current students weren’t aware of why Mr. Cowherd was gone for three weeks, and that the power dynamic in the classroom was too high.

Another parent named Ester Rogers, came to the meeting with a prepared sign that read “#Me Too.”  The hashtag has been taking social media by storm, with anyone who has been sexually harassed. Rogers is a mother of two boys, and she was concerned with the impact Mr. Cowherd’s on not just the girls, but on the boys. Rogers made the point that boys can perceive that the girls would be treated differently than them, and that this would make a horrible precedent for the boys in Mr. Cowherd’s classes.

All of the speakers agreed with one another, overall stating that Mr. Cowherd should not have been allowed back into the classroom, and that the school has the duty to protect students in the learning environment.

Kim Hunter, a local Assistant District Attorney, took the stand and was outraged. Hunter was concerned with the PHS environment because the year before the school had issues with anti-semitism, a couple years earlier the school had issues with a fantasy football roster. Hunter made it clear that the voice of the children had to be heard, that the issue with Mr. Cowherd is a big deal and must be treated as such.

Annie Marshall, a local resident of Piedmont, decided to go to the School Board meeting precisely to discuss Mr. Cowherd, and to hopefully receive answers. Annie was not alone in learning new mind boggling information that the parents of some harassed student presented. Marshall was not surprised about events that transpired at the meeting, she claimed that these incidents have been going on for years. Annie Marshall a loving mother of two graduated kids, expressed her opinion on the matter, “ I just hope the School Board does the right thing.”  Marshall explained that she believed the disciplinary action that transpired was inadequate and further steps must be done. While Marshall did not make it clear on her further plan of action, it is safe to assume she was pleased with the ending results. The ending results being that on Friday, the twenty-seventh of October, Mr. Cowherd resigned.

by Madison Kunke, Piedmont High School Senior

~~~~~~~~~~

On October 25th, I attended a School Board meeting, which was held at Piedmont City Hall. The School Board holds meetings twice a month to address issues concerning the Piedmont School District. The meeting was held in order to address the issues brought to the School Board. The issues discussed included: the salary of teacher assistant aides, the actions taken to remove history teacher Mr. Cowherd from classroom settings, CAB refinancing, H1 updates and announcements.

The first major issue addressed during this meeting was the low salaries of teacher assistant aides. Mrs. Ford, a teacher at Beach Elementary, noted that she has been working at Beach for 18 years. She told the audience that her aides are very important. She recalled that they help with yard duty, lunch duty, and help kids progress. She noted that in order for students to receive the most quality education, teachers’ aides adjust their work schedule to help the teacher execute her lesson plan. For example, for math class, Mrs Ford has a system where the class is divided into groups and each group works at a different station, learning a different mathematical skill. This system was specifically designed for the students. Mrs. Ford’s aide helps her with these rotations and also helps take over the class when kids are pulled aside to review their last test. Mrs. Ford went on to mention that one-on-one aides are very significant because they make school accessible to students with learning disabilities and these students’ success positively impacts the other students in the classroom. Mrs. Ford also noted that teacher aides have a very difficult yet important job. Everyday they have to listen to the teacher’s lessons and modify them so their student can easily comprehend the material. Their work is highly valued by the teachers yet their salary is small.

Teriss Alzer spoke on behalf of the Piedmont teacher aides and she noted that the School District’s administration has shown little value in their work and in their jobs. Ms. Alzer went on to note that teacher aides cannot live at poverty level anymore and they cannot be ignored. She said that this is the tipping point for teacher assistants and that they deserve respect and equal pay for equal work.

Jeff Verdano, a teacher assistant at Piedmont High School (PHS), noted that it is very expensive to live in the Bay Area, and as a result he has had to take up shifts at restaurants and drive Uber. He noted that he is passionate about his job and wants to continue doing his work, however, the pay is minimal.

Sarah Pearson, President of  the School Board, noted that she values and respects the teacher aides of Piedmont and that the School Board will look into the matter.

Another major issue discussed at the meeting was the manner in which the school officials addressed the sexual harassment allegations brought against Mr. Mark Cowherd. Mr. Cowherd teaches Modern World History, APUSH (Advanced Placement United States History), and AP Euro (Advanced Placement European History) at Piedmont High School.

Ms. Sherman, a high school parent, informed the attendees of the School Board meeting that during the AP Euro trip, last year, Mr. Cowherd had acted very inappropriately in front of her daughter, who graduated in 2017. Her daughter reported Mr. Cowherd after her graduation and soon afterward four other female students came forward with similar stories of sexual harassment. She said that these students stated that Mr. Cowherd had made sexual advances, had drunk alcohol when in their presence, had caressed their arms and shoulders, and had made inappropriate and sexual comments through text messaging and email.

Ms. Sherman set rumors to rest when she informed the audience that the reason the students waited until after graduation to report Mr. Cowherd was because they feared retaliation. Many of them had asked Mr. Cowherd for letters of recommendation and as seniors they knew that if they reported Mr. Cowherd he could withdraw his recommendation. Ms. Sherman also told the School Board that she was furious that Mr. Cowherd was investigated, found guilty, but allowed to return to school. Ms. Sherman noted that this is inexcusable.

Esther Rodgers, a member of the community and parent, told the audience that she has a son who is in Mr. Cowherd’s class. She expressed her concern to the School Board, noting that Mr. Cowherd, as a teacher, has a major impact on the young men in the classroom. If he creates an uncomfortable environment for everyone, this is detrimental to everyone’s learning. Ms. Rodgers also noted that people who have come forward need to be supported by the District. In her opinion, Mr. Cowherd should be kept away from students; he is a predatory teacher who should be immediately dismissed from the school faculty.

Kim Hunter, an Alameda County District Attorney, also spoke about the issue. Ms. Hunter works in molestation and she noted that in Piedmont there has been a chain of inexcusable behavior. First, there was the High School Fantasy Football Slut League. Then there was the anti-semitism assembly and now there is this conflict with sexual harassment at school. Ms. Hunter noted that children make mistakes and hopefully they will learn from them, but the first thing parents must do is listen to their children.

President Sarah Pearson addressed the audience and noted that the School Board is looking into the matter and that she is glad that so many members of the community were willing to come forward.

Another topic of discussion during the meeting was the H1 update. Mr. Brady told the School Board that there is now full documentation concerning the construction of the student building and the Alan Harvey Theater.

Brady also noted that there is a new policy called Board Policy 3290, which addresses the way in which the District names facilities. Mr. Brady informed the audience that the Board has the power to rename a District building. In addition, with the consent of the individual, the Board can name a facility in recognition of an outstanding individual who made a significant contribution to the school, to the community, or to the state.

The next topic of conversation was CAB – refinancing. The speaker, who did not identify himself, explained that in order to rebuild Havens Elementary, the School District had to take out a loan. The loan they took out was called a CAB. The speaker noted that taxes have increased among the community as well as property tax bills and therefore it is more reasonable for the District to refinance their loans for CAB loans are based on how much you house costs. In other words, the District should switch to a SIB loan.

School Board member Cory Smegal said that she appreciated his concern about the issue and that they will look into it.

To wrap up the discussion Mr. Booker, the Piedmont School Superintendent, noted that the District is opening up Article 6 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement for 2018-2020, and they are opening retirement incentives. In addition, he also announced that the District is looking into revising the Working Budget.

 After the School Board meeting came to an end, I had a conversation with Sarah Wozniak about the topics discussed. Ms. Wozniak, the leader of Title 9 for the Piedmont School District, was at the Board meeting because she wanted to express her concerns regarding Mr. Cowherd. She informed us that after attending the meeting she felt very emotional. She also mentioned that she was proud to see the community show support for the girls who came forward against Mr. Cowherd. Ms. Wozniak also noted that the District will be talking about what happened and discussing what next step should be taken to address this matter in the next few days. She also said that her next step will be working with other high school students to discuss how students can confidently speak up about these matters.

Overall, I thought this meeting was very informational and I am glad that I attended it. Though I had a lot to say about the issues discussed during the meeting, I chose to not express my opinion because I did not feel comfortable announcing my opinion to the public on the matters presented.

I also spoke to Mr. Keller before and he recommended that I remain quiet during the Board meeting. But, if I were to have said anything during the meeting, I would have said that I am very proud of the girls who came forward in regards to Mr. Cowherd. I think it is very important that students feel safe at school and don’t feel they will be punished for making a complaint. Though I did not have Mr. Cowherd, I think that if Mr. Cowher made many young girls feel uncomfortable for several years, than he should be dismissed from the school faculty.

by Madison Aikawa, Piedmont High School Senior

~~~~~~~~~~~

On October 25, 2017, I attended an important School Board Meeting at City Hall in Piedmont. The School Board meets about twice a month and discusses important issues about the district. In the School Board meeting that I attended, they discussed an important matter that’s been going on for about two months with a well-known Piedmont High School history teacher, Mark Cowherd. Parents expressed their outrage about the teacher’s role in the District. In addition to the School Board Meeting, teachers from different schools from the Piedmont District discussed the CSCA and teacher aides better pay wage.

As the meeting began, parents and teachers were given the opportunity to speak upon an issue they were concerned about outside the agenda. It was a public opportunity where they could come up to the podium and propose an issue or topic and share it with the School Board. At this time, the meeting started with the topic of Communication and Announcements. As I continued to watch and observe, a third-grade teacher at Beach Elementary School, Alaleh Ford came up to the podium and spoke about teacher aides. A teacher’s aide is an individual who helps a teacher with instructional responsibilities. She spoke about the goals of being a teacher’s aide, which include setting goals, grouping, planning and higher chances of success. She spoke on how teacher aides spend time adjusting work schedules on Thursday and Friday to work on classwork longer and then rotate each week. They also spend time being accessible to students’ needs and make it easier for them. In speaking about teacher aides, she hopes to see teacher aides be supported by the District.

An important issue arose as the next speaker came to the podium to discuss the inappropriate actions by a well-known history teacher. A parent of a recent high school graduate and freshman college student, Lisa Sherman spoke about the troubles that her daughter faced from her AP Euro teacher, Mark Cowherd. She was surrounded by many supporters, parents who were concerned about the current situation. Some of the parents who supported Lisa’s protest held up signs that said, “#MeToo”. #MeToo is a hashtag that was created online to indicate that someone has experienced some form of sexual harassment. Her daughter and four other students reported that Mr. Cowherd had sexually harassed them when they were seniors. Lisa Sherman expressed her anger and feelings to the School Board and her concerns about the school community for students. She also mentioned that when her daughter first reported the incident, four other students have come out and spoken against Mr. Cowherd’s actions.

It was reported that on an AP European trip in February, last year, 2017, Mr. Cowherd drunkenly texted sexual things to one of his students who is a female, and it made her uncomfortable. She didn’t speak up at that time due to being afraid that with the power that Mr. Cowherd held as a teacher, both her grades and her letter of recommendation for colleges would be affected.

As Lisa Sherman’s daughter reported the incident and the other students spoke up, the School District had taken immediate action by investigating the matter. During the investigation, Mr. Cowherd was put on leave for three weeks before returning to his teaching duties. When Mr. Cowherd returned to school following the investigation, parents and current students from his class were sent a letter from Piedmont High School Principal Littlefield, welcoming back Mr. Cowherd. Lisa Sherman and other parents spoke against this letter as it was poorly written with bad word choices.  They felt their voices were not heard.

Lisa Sherman’s argued from past experiences that Mr. Cowherd inappropriately touched students on the shoulders, backs, and elbows and drank alcohol in front of students at various times. She also argued that students were uncomfortable with the nicknames given to them by the teacher.

It was also shared that some male students from Mr. Cowherd’s classes doubted her daughter’s claim and might think that Mr. Cowherd’s behavior was validated. With Mr. Cowherd’s power determine grades, write letters of recommendation, and physical custody of the student through the school hour would surely affect those students who were sexually harassed by the teacher, claimed Lisa Sherman. She also stated that students were intimidated by him, which made them uncomfortable and fear him.

After Lisa Sherman’s speech, a Deputy District Attorney from Alameda County, Kim Hunter, came to the podium. She argued against Mr. Cowherd’s actions and sided with the statements made by parents and the recent PHS graduates who reported the issue. She argued that the voices of the students need to be heard, not silenced. She shared her story of how she got molested and no one listened.

Some people tend to think that sexual harassment is not a big deal, but Kim Hunter says  that “it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal!” No means no, and yes means yes. Sexual harassment is never ok and she strongly believes that we should listen more to the students and be by their side. She ended her speech by saying a powerful statement, “You get rid of him.”

Before the School Board meeting started, I got to interview a parent, Jamie Pehanick who was present during the meeting. She came because she wanted to hear what Lisa Sherman had to say about Mr. Cowherd’s actions. She mentioned that she was “disappointed in Mr. Cowherd’s inappropriate behavior.” She is concerned for the students, including her daughter, who currently attends school in Piedmont, about the conduct of Mr. Cowherd.  She was also concerned about the school’s “due process and law and regulations” and wanted changes. She believes the administration’s letter wasn’t properly written and the administration should have answered the parents and students questions regarding the situation.

I know by her reaction that she would be pleased with the turnout from the meeting and hopes that the School Board and the District will do the right thing.

In my opinion, I could only hear enough facts and arguments presented by parents against Mr. Cowherd. I personally don’t know Mark Cowherd, as I never had him as a teacher, so I can’t say where I stand with the situation.  But I do believe that what’s best for him is to resign and not face the students, if he were to come back from his second leave.

I don’t condone sexual harassment. It’s never okay. I do believe that the word choice in the letter written to the students and parents welcoming back Mr. Cowherd was poorly written and it could have been stated better. I believe that the first investigation should have taken longer than three weeks to investigate the situation and that the situation should have been addressed to the current students in his class in the beginning. Sexual harassment cases should be taken seriously and not get shut down in a short amount time following the reporting.

What Mr. Cowherd did was not acceptable. His behavior and his conduct should be penalized. Mr. Cowherd has subsequently been placed on his second leave and second investigation.

The next day, a Consent Assembly took place at Piedmont High School for the freshman and the seniors to discuss why it’s important to have consent in sexual relationships. Near the end of the assembly, Principal Littlefield came up to the stage and addressed the situation with Mr. Cowherd to the freshman and seniors. He announced that Mr. Cowherd is on his second leave and a second investigation was issued. He also spoke about the letter and mentioned that the letter was written poorly with bad word choices and could have been addressed better. On Friday afternoon, The Piedmont Highlander, school newspaper, announced that Mr. Cowherd had now resigned from his teaching duties.

by Eesha Shah, Piedmont High School Senior

Editors Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Oct 26 2017

School District found Cowherd “acted inappropriately and unprofessionally in his conduct as a certificated employee for the District.”

On Wednesday, October 25, 2017, at their meeting in City Hall, the Piedmont Board of Education was met by outraged parents demanding correction of what they considered to be inappropriate behavior by Piedmont High history teacher Mark Cowherd.

There were calls for Cowherd’s immediate firing based on a long term problem of sexual harassment, inappropriate jokes and actions. Attractive females were frequently found to be targets for Cowherd. One parent from the District Attorney’s Office stated the District should remove Cowherd and stand up to any lawsuit.

Emotions ran high as the packed Chamber’s attendees applauded long and loud after each speaker described the issues. The poor example set by Cowherd was felt to be totally unacceptable as well as a negative influence on the youth of Piedmont.

During a closed session of the Piedmont School Board on September 20 teacher Mark Cowherd’s evaluation by the Piedmont Unified School District was considered.  No action was taken during that meeting according to District Superintendent Randall Booker and as reflected in the public record of the meeting.

Channel 5 KPIX covered Cowherd concerns with an interview of Superintendent Booker.  View it HERE.

The East Bay Times reported on the Board meeting of October 25, 2017 when the organized effort by parents during the Communications and Announcements segment of the meeting informed the School Board of their serious concerns.   (See report HERE.)

Mark Cowherd has taught Advanced Placement United States and European history courses for many years at Piedmont High School, and he has long been a controversial teacher.   Revered by many students, some of whom went to the September 20 Special Meeting to defend Cowherd, and greatly disliked by others, who considered his behavior toward students and his remarks made in the classroom to be inappropriate.

In the past, parents and students have written letters to administrators, the School Board, and other parents, expressing concern over Cowherd’s behaviors: many thought their voices were not heard.  Some students and parents have indicated fear of retaliation with lower grades or no college recommendations for the high level advanced classes Cowherd teaches.

The administration, although informed of concerns, has consistently allowed Cowherd to continue teaching, and “welcomed him back” following a disciplinary three week leave of absence.

Parents and students have been aware for “at least five years” about Cowherd’s inappropriate behaviors, yet Cowherd has continued to teach within the District.

President of the School Board, Sarah Pearson, noted documentation of inappropriate behavior by District employees was needed by the School District.  She welcomed communications to the Board.

Some have questioned Cowherd’s exclusive European student trips that are unauthorized by the School District. 

For years, during Winter Break, Cowherd has led self-initiated and self-sponsored trips to Europe exclusively for his AP European History students.  Each student pays their own way, presumably their costs cover Cowherd’s travel costs as well.  Although his trips are not under the auspices of the School District, the facilities of the District and student information are used to develop the trips. For instance, the orientation and recruitment of student travelers has been conducted in the High School, yet the District provides no legal protections or oversight for the trips.

Update 10/27/17: Superintendent Randall Booker places Cowherd on a second leave of absence.  Read the report HERE.

POLICE DEPARTMENT CONTACT;

Dispatcher 420 -3000

Police Chief Jeremy Bowers  jbowers@piedmontpd.or

420 – 3011

 

SCHOOL BOARD CONTACT INFORMATION:

Sarah Pearson
President
spearson@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Amal Smith
Vice President
amalsmith@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Doug Ireland
direland@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Cory Smegal
csmegal@piedmont.k12.ca.us

Andrea Swenson
aswenson@piedmont.k12.ca.us

To view the COMMUNICATIONS AND ANNOUNCEMENT segment of the online video of the meeting go to http://piedmont.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=1680

To read and learn more about Mark Cowherd go to: > http://www.ratemyteachers.com/mark-cowherd/947515-t

Oct 20 2017

The City of Piedmont and the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) are making “Piedmont Stands United Against Hate” signs available to all residents.

In a joint project, the City of Piedmont and the Piedmont Unified School District have purchased “Piedmont Stands United Against Hate” signs, which are available to residents to show their support of Piedmont as an inclusive community.

These signs are the latest action taken by the City and the PUSD to demonstrate the commitment of Piedmonters to be an inviting, equitable, just, and safe community for everyone and to condemn, in the strongest possible language, the totalitarian impulses, violent terrorism, xenophobic biases, and bigoted ideologies that are promoted by hate groups.

“These signs are a visible way for Piedmonters to show their support for inclusivity and respect,” said Mayor Robert McBain. “We are pleased to be able to partner with the School District to help residents take a visible stand against intolerance and injustice.”

“The Piedmont Unified School District has instituted curriculum this year to provide training in equity, diversity, and social justice for staff, students, and the Piedmont community,” said Board of Education President Sarah Pearson. “We are pleased to partner with the City on this important endeavor.”

A group of residents are mobilizing to distribute signs to those who request them.

If you are interested in obtaining a sign, please contact Conna McCarthy at > 

mccarthycraigie@gmail.com.  

A limited number of signs will also be available at City Hall and the PUSD District Office.

The above press release is dated October 20, 2017. 

 

Oct 3 2017

“Betsy” Smegal Andersen grew up in Piedmont and attended Piedmont schools.   Betsy followed her mother, Sue Smegal,  in becoming active in Piedmont community issues. Her mother, served on the Piedmont School Board and is well known for civic participation.  Sister-in-law, Cory Smegal is the newest member of the Piedmont School Board.

Image result for Elizabeth Smegal Andersen

After graduating from Piedmont High School, Betsy attended Duke University and went on to UCLA School of Law.  She practices law in San Francisco.  Read about her law practice HERE.

Betsy and her husband, Robert, have two children in the Piedmont schools.

With Betsy’s appointment to the unexpired term of former councilmember Jeff Wieler, the Council will add a third woman to the five member Council.  Betsy’s long time involvement in Piedmont governmental processes and public policy decision-making will add another experienced member to the Piedmont City Council.

_____________________

City Press Release: At a special meeting held on October 2, 2017, Elizabeth Smegal Andersen was unanimously appointed to fill a vacancy on the Piedmont City Council.

After conducting interviews with twelve candidates, the Council chose Ms. Andersen to fill a term that will end when the results of the General Municipal Election of November 6, 2018 are certified, which likely will take place at the first Council meeting in December, 2018.

Prior to her appointment, Councilmember Andersen served on the Recreation Commission, beginning in 2014 and was the body’s Chair from 2016 until she was appointed to the Council. She has been an active volunteer for many years, also having served on the Aquatics Steering Committee and Public Safety Committee as well as several other community organizations, including the League of Women Voters and Piedmont Recreational Facilities Organization, among others.

The vacancy on the Council was created by the resignation of Councilmember Jeffrey Wieler on September 5, 2017.

Sep 29 2017

The recent resignation of former City Council member Jeff Wieler vacancy is to be filled by a Council appointment.  

To familiarize themselves with the 12 candidates noted below, the Council will conduct required interviews starting at 2:00 p.m., Monday, October 2, 2017 in the Emergency Operations Center of the Piedmont Police Department at 403 Highland Avenue. The agenda states that following the interviews, the Council may act to appoint the new Councilmember at the same meeting. 

In the past, the interviews have not been recorded or broadcast, ostensibly to give no candidate an advantage in hearing prior candidate’s questions or answers.

Council interviews, discussions, and any actions are open to all members of the public.

 Piedmont volunteerism is a traditional route to the Council.

Many of the applicants have served one or more times on city commissions or committees.  City Council members are not compensated monetarily for their service.  The  appointee will be eligible to seek election to a full term at the November 2018 General Election, as the seat will become open.

The candidates are:

Betsy Smegal Andersen

Shanti Brien

Brian Cain

John DeSerio

Kobi Eshun

Nancy Lehrkind

Johnathan Levine

Conna McCarthy

Gary Rinehart

Gina Scialabba

Susy Struble

Jamie Totsub

Information and comments on the various candidates can be submitted to the City Council members.

Council contact information:

Robert McBain, Mayor rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 547-0597 2nd Term Exp. 11/20
Teddy Gray King, Vice Mayor tking@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 450-0890 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Jennifer Cavenaugh jcavenaugh@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 428-1442 1st Term Exp. 11/20
Tim Rood trood@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 239-7663 1st Term Exp. 11/18

 

All information submitted to the Council by the applicants is public information.

For further information, contact City Clerk John Tulloch at (510)420-3040.

Sep 9 2017

The recent tragedies of Harvey, Irma, and wildfires remind Piedmonters – it is time to prepare for an emergency!  Piedmont’s close proximity to earthquake faults and potential raging wildfires are ongoing reasons to prepare. 

Click for preparation checklist HERE.

A booklet, GET READY, PIEDMONT! was prepared for all Piedmonters.  The booklet is online HERE.

Piedmont is fortunate to have its own Public Safety Committee appointed by the Piedmont City Council.  The Council charge to the Committee can be read HERE.

Roster of the Public Safety Committee

Council Liaison: Jen Cavenaugh (H) 428-1442

Chief of Police Jeremy Bowers (W) 420-3010
Fire Chief Bud McLaren (W) 420-3030

Andrea Swenson, School Board Appointee

Lori Elefant

Ryan Gilbert

Garrett Keating

Chris Houlder

Gina Scialabba

Lynne Wright

~~~~~~~~~

Additional information below:

Get Ready, Piedmont – Disaster Preparedness Brochure & Checklist

The Piedmont Public Safety Committee has prepared the Get Ready, Piedmont disaster preparedness guide. This document provides comprehensive information on preparation for and response to, earthquakes, fires, landslides, and other emergencies. The guide is 50 pages in length with checklists and illustrations on things like turning off utilities, food and water storage, first aid materials, seismic measures etc. This document is available by clicking here as well as on the Public Safety Committee and Fire Department pages of the site. Printed copies are available at the Fire Department.

Also available is the four page checklist which provides a ready reference on steps to take in the event of an earthquake or wildfire as well as general guidance on disaster preparedness and crime prevention. Printed copies are available at the Fire Department.

http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/committees/public_safety.shtml

Sep 8 2017

What will the process be to fill the vacancy resulting from Jeff Wieler’s Piedmont City Council resignation ?

Wieler resigned effective September 5, 2017.  The Council must make an appointment within 30 days from the vacancy, which is October 5, 2017.

CITY CHARTER : (C) FILLING OF VACANCIES. A vacancy on the City Council shall be filled by appointment by the Council, with said appointee to hold office until the next general municipal election, when a successor shall be chosen by the electors for the unexpired term. If the Council does not fill such vacancy within thirty (30) days after the same occurs, then such vacancy shall be filled by the Mayor.

The City Administrator and Mayor changed their minds on when to meet to discuss how to fill the vacant council seat.

At the Sept. 5, 2017 Council meeting the City Administrator, Paul Benoit, stated the Council would undertake consideration of the process for the vacancy appointment on September 18 leaving only a little over 2 weeks (16 days) for the process of advertisement/notification, application, interviews, consideration, and appointment within the Charter limit of 30 days.

Some in the community speculated that the shortened time frame, two weeks rather than 4 weeks or 30 days, to make the appointment was a result of there being a favored candidate.  No candidate has been noticed as a preferred candidate.

The process being currently suggested by staff condenses the time allowed for applicants and their consideration. 

Update ( 9/10/17): The Special Council Meeting date of September 11 to determine the appointment selection process was set to accommodate the staffs’ ability to prepare a recommended selection process.  The Special Meeting date has been stated as not intended to favor any candidate. 

Staff report and recommendation is linked below:    http://www.ci.piedmont.ca.us/html/govern/staffreports/2017-09-11/citycouncilvacancy.pdf

The process selected for a prior vacancy appointment can be read HERE.

The Special Meeting is open to the public for public participation.  Interested candidates should find the meeting informative.  There will be no broadcast of the meeting. 

The agenda states:

City of Piedmont
Special City Council Agenda
Monday, September 11, 2017

7:30 p.m.

Emergency Operations Center

403 Highland Avenue, Piedmont [This venue does not lend itself to broadcasting.]

Call to Order Pledge of Allegiance
Special Session
1. Consideration of the Process for Filling the Council Seat Vacated by the Resignation of Councilmember Jeffrey Wieler

For further information, contact the City Clerk at 510/42o-3040.

Those wanting to comment on the process may send an email or emails to the Council as follows:

Robert McBain, Mayor rmcbain@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 547-0597 2nd Term Exp. 11/20
Teddy Gray King, Vice Mayor tking@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 450-0890 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Jennifer Cavenaugh jcavenaugh@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 428-1442 1st Term Exp. 11/20
Tim Rood trood@piedmont.ca.gov (510) 239-7663 1st Term Exp. 11/18
Sep 6 2017

Speakers at the September 5, 2017 Council meeting, praised the Council for its fast reaction to recent controversial remarks made by prior mayor, Jeff Wieler.  Before Wieler resigned from the Council all Councilmembers had gone on record publicly stating Wieler should resign from his council seat for the sake of the City.

During the Public Forum, citizens addressed the Council with the following points:

  • A representative of the Piedmont Appreciating Diversity Committee thanked the Council and the public for their involvement and concern.  Notice was given of Piedmont’s upcoming anti-discrimination films.
  • A new resident was shocked by the comments reported in the media, indicating opinions typical of the alt-right.  The publicly available open facebook page of Councilmember Tim Rood was praised as a good resource to learn a Councilmember’s opinions. It was suggested that all Councilmembers establish an open facebook page so that residents can learn about the positions of their elected Councilmembers.
  • The Piedmont Civic Association (PCA) was praised for providing timely and accurate information on the issues.
  • Speakers said there should be no place in Piedmont government for prejudicial statements and in the future more attention would be given to the Council actions.
  • One speaker asked residents to write Jeff Wieler and note matters where he had contributed positively to the City.  In this way, he would learn to use his mind and his mouth for positive results.

During Public Forum, California’s sunshine law, the Brown Act, does not allow the Councilmembers to engage in discussions with speakers.