Last year, Yuba City High School teacher Jim Whiteaker was accused by a half-dozen current and former students of sexual misconduct, assault or bullying. He quit his job after the school district’s board recommended his firing — but now he is back in the classroom at another school just across the county line.
Whiteaker started this year at Thomas E. Mathews Community School in Marysville, which is three miles from Yuba City High in Sutter County.
His new teaching job in Yuba County comes despite complaints by students and parents, who went before the Yuba City Unified School District’s governing board in 2018 with accusations going back 20 years.
The allegations were enough to warrant an independent investigation by the board, which recommended in January 2018 that Whiteaker be fired. Before that could happen, Whiteaker — who has repeatedly denied the accusations — resigned.
Currently, Whiteaker is the subject of two lawsuits: one filed by a former student who claims he videotaped her during physical education class, and by a student who says he grabbed her by the buttocks in 2018 while she and a friend were wrestling on the ground.
His attorney did not respond to a request to discuss the lawsuits, and Whiteaker did not return phone calls, emails or messages.
Both cases also list the Yuba City Unified School District as a defendant.
Paul Matiasic, an attorney who represents one of the students, says the results of the school board’s investigation should have been a red flag for any school considering to hire Whiteaker.
"They found that the claim of sexual assault and sexual abuse was a credible one, and that action should be taken as a result,” Matiasic said. “Clearly, there's an ostrich effect going on."
The Yuba City Unified School District declined to comment on the lawsuits, or Whiteaker’s recent hiring at the continuation school just on the other side of the Feather River.
That school, Thomas E. Matthews, brought Whiteaker on board for the current school year. It serves students working to overcome expulsion, truancy and a failure to earn enough credits to graduate on time.
Brenda Barnes has a daughter at the continuation school and was shocked to learn Whiteaker, who she was familiar with, had been able to obtain another teaching job.
“Oh my god. Are you serious?” she said “Why did he have to come here?”
According to Yuba County Superintendent of Schools Francisco Reveles, state rules do not allow the district to ask questions of a candidate based on personal knowledge or media reports.
“Legally, any question asked of an applicant must be asked of all applicants and must be a legal question. We have a strict framework,” he said. “We take it very seriously. Hopefully whatever happened at another district will be followed up and will be reflected in the credentialing.”
But the allegations against Whiteaker and the two pending lawsuits are not reflected on his teaching credential, and his file on the state credentialing website makes no mention of previous investigations.
In January of this year, the California Commission On Teacher Credentialing closed its investigation and recommended “no adverse action at this time,” according to a letter Whiteaker posted on Facebook.
Barnes wants to know why the commission failed to discipline the teacher.
“Why would the school board ask him to resign, but the state can’t find anything?” she asked.
The credentialing commission declined an interview for this story.
A spokesperson with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing says hiring agencies can ask questions based on personal knowledge or stories in the media — but that the prospective employer would have to be careful.
An attorney for the department says asking a candidate to explain the circumstances that caused them to leave their previous job would not violate a prospective employee’s rights.
“The question is not unlawful on its face,” the department wrote in a statement. “However, this question, like many others, could potentially be used with a discriminatory or retaliatory motive that could make its use unlawful in a specific context.”
Gabriella Landeros, with the California Teachers Association, says it agrees teachers can be questioned about their previous employment.
“We are not aware of any law that prohibits asking questions on history, and we don't know the District's employment practices. Regardless, the District needs to follow the law when considering hiring someone who has been accused of misconduct, but who has not been charged. Keeping students safe is always our number one concern," Landeros said.
The Yuba County online job application asks all candidates about their previous employment and “reason for leaving” and it does ask if the candidate has ever been fired or left a job upon threat of employment.
Reveles would not comment on Whiteaker’s hiring but said his team discusses every applicant. “We look at the teachers’ credentialing. We look at letters of reference. If there are further questions about an applicant, we follow up with those,” he said. “We discuss every prospective employee. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t.”
One of the lawsuits against Whiteaker and the district is scheduled to go to a jury trial in December 2020.
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