Investigative firm recommends Sonoma Academy keep better records, train staff in wake of abuse revelations
Monday evening, Sonoma Academy published the full report from New York-based firm Debevoise and Plimpton, which investigated student and alumni reports of teacher misconduct at the prestigious Santa Rosa high school.
The school launched its probe after seven female graduates this summer shared their stories in a Press Democrat investigation about what they described as years of instances of inappropriate behavior and misconduct by a longtime teacher, Marco Morrone, and the inadequate response by school leaders to their complaints.
The 49-page report included several recommendations for policies and procedures aimed at addressing and preventing the kinds of abuses uncovered.
While the school has made a number of changes since its first investigation in 2020, the Debevoise also recommended that the following:
Sonoma Academy should conduct an audit of its record retention protocols to ensure it is maintaining a centralized personnel management system that records any instances of discipline or complaints against school staff, faculty, temporary employees and contractors by colleagues, students or other community members.
With legal consultation, the school should review its code of conduct and other applicable safety and boundary policies on a yearly basis. These policies should be updated immediately when misconduct comes to light that is not covered by the policies.
Before hiring a new employee, the school should contact each of the individual’s references and document its findings from these reference checks. Documentation of reference checks for employees hired should be maintained in a confidential file, separate from the employee’s personnel file.
The school should ensure that staff and faculty who hire employees are trained on these policies and protocols.
When hiring contractors and temporary employees, the school should ensure that it trains these hires on anti-harassment and child safety policies. A signed acknowledgment of this training should be obtained.
While the school has strengthened its mandatory reporting training, investigators said, Debevoise is tasked with providing follow-up to ensure that employees are aware of their mandatory obligations under state law. The head of school should be made aware of any mandatory report that is made known to the school and that report should be noted in the employee’s confidential file.
The school should maintain a central, permanent record of all known mandated reports.
The school’s board of trustees should form a subcommittee focused on student safety, with the subcommittee overseeing the annual review of new student safety policies. The head of school should submit an annual report about safety complaints, including those made anonymously.
The subcommittee should conduct an annual review of the head of school’s performance, including an assessment of his or her enforcement of child safety protocols.
During its annual review of the head of school’s performance, the school board should inquire about any instances of misconduct regarding adults at the school and how those reports were handled. Such reviews should be documented and includes in the head of school’s personnel file.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or email@example.com. On Twitter @pressreno.