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Yuba City Teacher Jim Whiteaker Was Warned 20 Years Ago To Avoid ‘Unwelcome’ Physical Contact With Students, Staff After Sexual Misconduct Allegations

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Yuba City High School is where teacher Jim Whiteaker has been employed for the last 22 years. He is under investigation for improper conduct with students.

Bob Moffitt / Capital Public Radio

Yuba City High School teacher Jim Whiteaker is on paid administrative leave as he fights allegations he inappropriately touched or bullied several students over two decades during his time as a coach and teacher at Yuba City High School.

Whiteaker, who is also a Sutter County supervisor, has previously stated through his attorney that the district has never disciplined him.

But, a letter obtained through a California Public Records Act request by Capital Public Radio indicates otherwise.

In November 1998, Superintendent William L. “Willie” Wong sent a letter of reprimand to Whiteaker after an investigation into complaints that he inappropriately touched a fellow staffer and student that year.

Wong wrote that he had concluded the teacher violated the district's sexual harassment policy. "Your behavior was inappropriate and in violation of Board Policy," the letter reads.

It goes on to say that Whiteaker must “refrain from any unwarranted or unwelcomed physical contact with students or employees."

The 1998 investigation was launched after two people complained about the teacher. One came from a district employee who said Whiteaker visited her at her home uninvited, was sexually aroused as he gave her a hug, and ran his hands down her sides, touching her breasts in the process.

The other came from a former student who filed a written complaint roughly five months after making a verbal report to the school. In the complaint, the student says Whiteaker used his hand to touch or cup her breasts on multiple occasions.

School principal Bill Highland wrote at the time that he interviewed this student and another student when the complaint was lodged, but did not launch a formal investigation because no written complaint had been filed.

The investigation that led to Wong’s letter to Whiteaker was conducted by former district Director of Personnel Brian Sevier. Thirteen days prior to the letter, Sevier concluded his investigation with a recommendation that a “letter of reprimand be placed in Mr. Whiteaker’s file.”

The investigation drew upon information from statements made by Highland and the school nurse at the time, Caren Broussard.  

Until Capital Public Radio showed Highland this statement to the district, he had recently been unable to remember the student's complaint. Now, he says reading his own memo to Sevier helped jog his memory.

"I stand by my statement at the time," he said on Friday.

The former principal also says he now remembers believing the two students who came to him with stories about Whiteaker touching them inappropriately.

Highland says the letter of reprimand from Wong to Whiteaker is "absolutely" a disciplinary action.

But Whiteaker's attorney, Roberto Marquez, disagrees. "I would not necessary agree Sevier really meant reprimand letter to be synonymous with disciplinary letter," he wrote in an email, adding that he believed it was, "just advisory, a warning."

Sevier, Highland and "Personnel File" were cc'd on the letter from Wong to Whiteaker.

The teacher has also denied allegations made by former students and members of the community earlier this year. They include accusations that he grabbed a student by the buttocks in January, bullied two other students, videotaped another, and wrenched a female student's arm so violently in 2013 that she tore her shoulder’s labrum. That student also alleges he tried to convince her not to report the incident.

Some students have said they complained to the school and the district about Whiteaker, but there was no follow-up. Some have said they filed police reports, but the Yuba City Police Department has refused to confirm or deny any investigations of Whiteaker.

Current Sutter County District Attorney Amanda Hopper and former DA Carl Adams have told Capital Public Radio they were never referred police investigations of Whiteaker

Whiteaker and the school district are currently the defendants in two lawsuits brought the families of current and former students.

The complaints against Whiteaker came to light after a 14-year-old girl said the teacher grabbed her buttocks in January. He claims he used his knee to break up what he thought was a fight. The girl says she and a friend were horsing around.

School board chairperson Lonetta Riley told parents in February this was the first time she or the board had heard of complaints about Whiteaker.

An independent state arbitration panel will decide whether Whiteaker keeps his job or is fired, as the school board has recommended.

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