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Columbia board mulls safety rules

Columbia Union School District Superintendent John Pendley outlined school safety practices at a Board of Trustees meeting Tuesday, but made no mention of a recent sexual assault allegation against a former Columbia volunteer. 

Trustees reviewed proposed changes to Columbia’s policies on the security of campus buildings, bullying, school climate, standards for school meals and more. 


The policies follow samples from the California School Boards Association that are periodically revised to reflect new laws.

A number of revisions to the sample policies arose from the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.

Among the most extensive changes were those to a policy on campus “disruptions” and intruders, emphasizing the need to delineate staff responsibilities and coordinate with law enforcement. 

The updated policies still need final approval from the Columbia Union School District Board of Trustees in August before the school adds them to its own set of rules.  

As he had at a January board meeting, Pendley spoke about the difficulty of planning the school’s response to a shooting on campus. 

“The hardest part is, you don’t want to say to the public, ‘Here’s the plan,’ because the bad guys get it,” Pendley said. “That’s been a real dilemma, and we’ve struggled with that.” 

He also summarized the safety precautions that Columbia already takes. The school installed security cameras about five years ago, he said. However, they are not inside classrooms, and they don’t record audio. 

Columbia has a staff “safety committee” that meets once a month to review accident reports and discuss recent safety issues. 

Furthermore, it has a “comprehensive school safety plan” that details procedures for reporting child abuse, dealing with emergencies and disasters, notifying teachers about dangerous students, and more. 

Absent from Tuesday’s board meeting was any discussion of a June 3 allegation that a student had been sexually abused by a volunteer tutor on campus in 2010. 

Pendley also did not discuss specific efforts to reduce the likelihood of further sexual assaults on campus.

The June 3 allegation matched one made earlier by a student who said he had been “touched inappropriately” by the same volunteer aide in 2010, according to Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Sgt. Jim Oliver. 

The volunteer was an elderly man and retired teacher who has since died, meaning charges can never be brought against him for the latest allegation. No charges were filed in 2010.

Oliver said he had no information about the number of students who’d come into contact with the suspect. 

Columbia Elementary sent home a letter to parents June 11 as a “statement of facts” regarding the sheriff’s investigation. 

It said the suspect had possessed a teaching credential and was employed as an aide at Columbia during the 2000-01 school year.

After the first allegation was made in 2010, Pendley dismissed him, according to Columbia Elementary’s letter. 

But the length of time the volunteer spent at Columbia Elementary is still unclear, as is the exact location of his work on campus or the number of students he had contact with. 

Pendley and Board of Trustees President Laura Phelan declined to answer questions Tuesday about the school’s response. 

In the past, district officials have also declined to answer questions about how district safety policies changed, if at all, after Pendley’s son Brennan Pendley went to jail for having sex with an eighth-grade girl on campus. 

The younger Pendley had been working as an after-school aide at the time. 

The only other attendees at Tuesday’s meeting were Columbia Elementary Principal Ed Pelfrey, local resident Bruce Engstrom and Dante Sanchez, a social worker whose son attends Columbia Elementary. 

Sanchez has previously criticized Columbia Elementary and Pendley for their handling of Brennan Pendley’s case. 

“I’m really livid about the whole situation,” she told The Union Democrat earlier this month, adding that she felt parents should have been notified about the first allegation in 2010. 

Columbia Elementary Trustee Jo Rodefer, who says she still thinks that Pendley should have resigned after Brennan Pendley’s crimes, defended the district’s policies Tuesday. 

“Columbia has gone out of its way,” Rodefer said. 


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