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O.C. bad teachers include sex offenders, bullies
By FERMIN LEAL and SCOTT MARTINDALE



Third-grade teacher Jayne DeArmond brought a .38-caliber handgun to her class. Her pupils at Diamond Elementary in Santa Ana found the weapon inside a drawer next to several bullets when they looked for a stapler.

Marco Forster Middle School teacher Kirk last was accused of using physical force to prevent a disrespectful student from entering a fitness room.

Mesa View Middle School teacher Gay Davidson-Shepard and her husband, Daniel Shepard, a teacher at Westminster High, brought a 17-year-old to their home, gave him alcohol and then had sex with the boy. They continued a sexual relationship with the student for several months.

The 35 Orange County educators who left classrooms over five years amid misconduct investigations range from those convicted of crimes involving students to those accused of grabbing, shoving or berating children.

One more case is pending.

Districts terminated a few of the teachers, but many of them were allowed to resign or retire to speed them out of the system. Some quit before investigations into their actions were concluded or, in some cases, even started.

"We entrust teachers with our children and expect them to be incredibly responsible," said Audrey Yamagata-Noji, a trustee in Santa Ana Unified, a district that reported 12 teachers who left classrooms under a cloud. "We have to aggressively pursue the removal of those teachers who don't know how to manage discipline, those who abuse students and those who violate our trust."

The Orange County Register obtained records detailing accusations that led to the departure of teachers from jobs from 2007 to July 2012 through California Public Records requests. Fourteen of the county's 28 districts reported at least one teacher leaving; the other 14 reported none.

CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS

California law allows school districts to remove and fire teachers if they are convicted of a felony of any kind. These employees automatically lose their teaching credential. State law also allows districts to dismiss teachers for immoral or unprofessional conduct, although this can be more difficult.

Sixteen teachers were terminated, or quit ahead of certain termination, during probes that resulted in criminal convictions for some form of sexually based offense, often crimes involving students.

They include the Shepards, who were sentenced earlier this month to probation, counseling and community service. Prosecutors said the couple "groomed" their target in 2009 by plying the boy with alcohol, board games and movies. Gay Davidson-Shepard was among the most respected teachers at her Huntington Beach campus. She had served as president of the Ocean View School District teachers' union, helping negotiate teacher contracts.

Trabuco Hills High teacher Alyssa Ann Johnson, Century High teacher Naomi Perez and Laguna Hills High teacher David Araya are among others who also lost jobs for engaging in sexual relationships with teenage students.

Duane Axtell, a teacher at Talbert Middle School in Huntington Beach, and Hugh Scott Wilson, a teacher at La Habra's Washington Intermediate, are among educators convicted of sex crimes involving middle school children.

Chris Micah Brazelton, a teacher at Garden Grove's Woodbury Elementary, was the only elementary teacher countywide removed for a sexual crime against a pupil. Brazelton was sentenced in January to eight years in prison for sexually touching a girl in his classroom and grabbing another's buttocks at a store.

El Modena High Principal Brent Bailey lost his job even though his criminal conviction didn't involve children. Bailey pleaded guilty in 2007 to misdemeanor charges of lewd conduct after a plainclothes officer found the principal masturbating in a Fullerton park. Bailey resigned before his guilty plea.

STUDENT HARASSMENT

Aliso Viejo Middle School's Paul Jason Ewell was one of the most popular and respected campus teachers, chosen as the school's 2005 Teacher of the Year, before he was terminated in September 2008 for having an inappropriate relationship with a student.

From 2006 to 2007, Ewell was accused of building a romantic relationship with a 14-year-old girl he was mentoring and training as a cross-country runner. Ewell and the girl referred to each other as "secret boyfriend angel" and "secret girlfriend angel" in hundreds of text messages they exchanged daily and gave each other "angelship rings," according to documents. The girl wanted to convert Ewell to Catholicism, records show. Ewell provided the girl a secret cellphone after the girl's mother became suspicious of the relationship, according to records.

The Sheriff's Department eventually investigated the relationship, but found no evidence the two had a sexual relationship. Still, the Capistrano Unified School District terminated Ewell for harassment of the girl.

Ewell's conduct was "weird, stupid, creepy, sick, unjustifiable, extremely disturbing, completely inappropriate, and beyond the bounds of professionalism," Administrative Law Judge James Ahler, who backed the district's decision, said in his ruling.

PHYSICALLY ABUSIVE

Steven Mark Jones, a teacher at Willard Intermediate in Santa Ana, was accused in September 2009 of grabbing a student by the neck and pushing him out of a chair, leaving abrasions on the student's skin. Jones had become agitated because the student had been playing his violin too loudly in the music room, according to district documents and statements from several students.

Jones received an unpaid eight-day suspension. A month later, Jones physically blocked students leaving his class after the bell rang because they hadn't completed their work, according to documents. When a girl left the class, Jones chased her and violently grabbed her wrist, documents show. Jones was allowed to retire in March 2010, receiving early retirement incentives.

BIZARRE BEHAVIOR

Gail Burgan, a third-grade teacher at Santa Ana's Sepulveda Elementary, was accused of threatening during 2007 to "put staples on students private areas, or use stick tape over their private areas" so they wouldn't interrupt class to go to the restroom.

Documents detailed teachers accused of bizarre behavior.

Burgan told students she was "(expletive) off that she had to go to a funeral for her ex-husband." She is accused of telling students she was going to the funeral and would bring her ex-husband back alive.

She then is accused of telling them she had been to jail for being crazy. She would also curse at students, threaten them with a fly swatter and told them she would stick pencils in their eyes if they stole supplies from the class, documents show.

The district investigated Burgan in November 2007 after her students complained to other Sepulveda teachers.

"Burgan's acts included insulting vulnerable young children, speaking repeatedly about inappropriate and disgusting topics. ... She screamed at children, refused to allow them to do their work, and used profane language directed at children," then-Superintendent Jane Russo said in a discipline letter attached to the teacher's file.

Contact the writer: 714-796-2258 or fleal@ocregister.com



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