Education

‘The district doesn’t protect these kids.’ Roseville teacher’s bad behavior spanned 2 decades, records show

Roseville teacher’s bad behavior spanned 2 decades, records show

Roseville teacher Douglas Mason, on unpaid leave on allegations he sexually harassed a 14-year-old high school freshman in 2017, has a history of warnings, reprimands and suspensions for inappropriate conduct dating back to 1997, records show.
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Roseville teacher Douglas Mason, on unpaid leave on allegations he sexually harassed a 14-year-old high school freshman in 2017, has a history of warnings, reprimands and suspensions for inappropriate conduct dating back to 1997, records show.

A Roseville teacher on leave since January for allegedly sexually harassing a teenage student has a history of inappropriate behavior involving female students and colleagues dating back more than 20 years, newly released documents obtained by The Sacramento Bee show.

The Roseville Joint Union High School District provided the personnel documents for Douglas Mason after The Bee demanded last week that school officials adhere to the California Public Records Act. The documents show a pattern of conduct, complaint and action – formal and informal – against the 56-year-old health teacher and former athletics coach as far back as 1997.

The newly released documents show:

During a November 1999 incident while participating in a lunch hour dunk tank event for a campus canned food drive, Mason reportedly wore shorts with a large hole in the crotch area that exposed his genitalia, according to documents. That incident was reported to school officials by several students and employees and was one of a trio of incidents that led to a three-day suspension in December 1999.

A June 2002 letter of reprimand while Mason coached girls track outlined graphic “lectures” he gave one of his female student-athletes on the unsanitary effects of wearing thong underwear. The student said Mason on another occasion asked if she was wearing thong underwear.

The same 2002 warning letter referenced instances in which Mason told a female track athlete that she was “hot”; mentioned to another that female student-athletes often became attracted to their coaches; touched female athletes in ways that “surprised” them and made them “uneasy”; and cited a trackside conversation that several of the athletes had about the “weird/gross stuff” Mason had said.

After each of the incidents came verbal and written warnings and brief suspensions. By 2010, Mason was barred outright from coaching co-ed and female sports at any school in the Roseville Joint Union High School District, records show.

But Mason was later accused of stripping naked near students, families and young children in the Woodcreek High School cafeteria to change into wrestling gear before a November 2012 practice session while he was the school’s varsity wrestling coach. The scene prompted a family’s formal complaint in August 2013 on behalf of a female wrestler and a district investigation that concluded Mason acted unprofessionally and inappropriately.

It is not clear why Mason was allowed to participate in wrestling practices with female athletes given his 2010 ban on coaching co-ed or female sports. The 2010 document has a handwritten note “*Girl wrestlers ... how to proceed.”

He left coaching altogether in 2013, according to documents.

He continued to teach and was transferred to other district campuses before he was placed on unpaid leave in January after allegations he sexually harassed a 14-year-old Woodcreek student in 2017. Mason taught and coached for 22 years at Woodcreek High School before his transfer to Roseville and Oakmont high schools last school year.

Documents released under Bee legal pressure

The records were handed over Friday by the Roseville Joint Union High School District to comply with a request The Sacramento Bee initially filed in January.

Mason had fought to keep the documents sealed. In April, Mason asked a Placer County judge to block their release on privacy grounds. A decision on the reverse California Public Records Act request filed under the name “Roseville Teacher” was delayed numerous times in court.

Last week, Sacramento Bee attorneys sent a letter to the school district demanding it adhere to the California Public Records Act, which requires public entities to release documents in a timely manner. On Friday, Mason withdrew his petition.

Mason’s attorney, Ernest H. Tuttle IV, did not respond to requests for comment. But in court documents, as in his responses over the years to school and district officials, Mason has denied wrongdoing.

“While I may have made some mistakes in judgment as I strived to support and be accessible to my students, I emphatically state that I have not engaged in sexual assault or harassment,” Mason said in court documents seeking to block the records’ release. “I have never touched a student inappropriately.”

Roseville Joint Union High School District officials confirmed that Mason remains on unpaid administrative leave, but on the advice of legal counsel declined to provide further specific comment on Mason.

Brad Basham, an assistant superintendent, said in a statement that student and staff safety has “always been a top priority” for the district, and that the Roseville Joint Union High School District takes complaints of sexual harassment seriously. “We encourage anyone who feels they have been subjected to sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior to report it to a teacher, counselor or administrator,” the statement read.

The Bee’s public records request was prompted by the Woodcreek freshman’s complaint in April 2017 that Mason had regularly massaged her shoulder, pulled an ankle-length skirt to her knee, winked at her in a flirtatious manner during class and asked that she call him during the summer so he could hear her voice. The student told investigators she often worried about how to avoid Mason touching her and said other students commented on how Mason treated her, according to documents.

The district later offered the student counseling and district officials said Mason would not return to Woodcreek for the 2017-18 school year. But it took two investigations to determine that Mason’s actions constituted sexual harassment.

District investigators initially concluded that his conduct, as in past instances, did not rise to sexual harassment. A California Department of Education review of the district’s investigation, prompted by the student’s parents, determined the district had failed to ensure that Mason would not repeat his behavior and ordered the district to reopen its inquiry and show how it planned to protect students at the schools where Mason taught.

Warnings date back to 1997

The documents released Friday show Mason first appeared on the district’s radar after verbal warnings in March 1997 and a written letter of warning in October 1998.

That letter came after three female employees complained of unwelcome remarks and behavior. The behavior was not disclosed. But officials said the employees avoided being alone in the same room as Mason and refused to serve on staff committees with Mason after the incidents.

The employees declined to formalize their complaints – another thread that ran through the years of complaints and allegations against Mason – and Mason was not formally disciplined. But the employees asked Mason to stop the offending conduct and officials warned Mason that future complaints would lead to discipline, including suspension without pay.

Mason was remorseful, according to the 1998 letter from the school official, who counseled him to change his conduct and issued a formal warning: “Your commitment to modify your behavior … demonstrates your desire to develop more professional relationships,” the official wrote. “I am confident, Doug, that you will successfully modify your behavior and that this will be a non-issue in the future.”

Mason was suspended for three days without pay just 13 months later, in December 1999, for the dunk tank incident, part of another three-point complaint by another female teacher who said Mason suggested that the food drive event would be more successful if the teacher wore a bikini.

The teacher also cited an incident weeks before the scene at the dunk tank. She described leaving the school nurse’s restroom to find Mason standing outside the restroom door. When she asked why Mason was standing near the door, she said he answered that he was installing a video camera “so the next time you use the bathroom, I can see,” according to her complaint.

Mason insisted the statement was “more general in nature,” officials stated in a district memo, saying he meant that the camera was being installed to ensure that the lavatory was being used only by those permitted to do so.

The staff member said she was unconvinced. She felt the comment was directed toward her, saying in her letter, “The three incidents have really made me feel uncomfortable.”

By 2002, officials started to see patterns re-emerge.

“Once again you engaged in ‘overly familiar’ discussions with female athletes,” stated a May 2002 investigative report on Mason’s behavior as a Woodcreek track coach. The report and the reprimand letter that followed concluded that though Mason’s actions bordered on sexual harassment, “they fall short of that finding.”

But this time, the reprimand came with a pointed list of demands including that Mason stop referring to female students as “hot,” and not to touch female athletes “in any way that would surprise them or make them feel uneasy.”

And, it came with officials’ strongest language to date.

“The potential for career-threatening charges against you have been increased due to your actions. You have placed your students in potentially harmful circumstances; you have damaged your professional reputation and placed the District at risk,” the reprimand read. Mason’s file, with its letters of complaint, warning and reprimand in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2002, had begun to swell.

In a near mirror of the 2002 incidents, Mason had told a female athlete, “You’re so hot – you’re the reason boys go out for track,” while he was an assistant track coach at the school, documents show a Woodcreek investigation in 2010 found. How Mason touched female athletes during their stretching regimen also raised new concerns even as it unearthed old problems.

Woodcreek and district officials had appeared – again – to have had enough.

“(Y)our actions have violated these directives and caused concerns regarding your professional conduct to resurface,” an August 2010 memo to Mason read. “Your behavior has impacted students, parents and staff in a manner that causes discomfort and trepidation.”

Eight years after that warning, with Mason on leave and facing yet more allegations, a long history of misconduct now in the open, parents’ frustration is at a breaking point.

Curt Thomas, with wife Geri Thomas, filed the 2013 complaint five years ago this week that exposed the cafeteria incident.

“This isn’t the first time this has happened,” Curt Thomas said. “We didn’t want this to happen again, but it did because the district doesn’t protect these kids.”

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