Columbia Union School District held its quietest Board of Trustees meeting in more than a year Tuesday, with only two comments made by community members on a 2010 sex scandal involving Superintendent John Pendley’s son.
The public outcry over the crimes, and Pendley’s subsequent handling of the case, appears to have quieted down following news that Columbia Union School District’s insurer reached a tentative $100,000 settlement with the victim on Dec. 14.
The victim was in eighth grade at the time Brennan Pendley, now 25, had sex with her in a classroom on the Columbia Elementary campus. He was employed as an after-school aide there at the time.
The claim against the district, served on the victim’s behalf in 2011, alleged she suffered psychological injuries from sexual abuse by Brennan Pendley and subsequent mistreatment by school staff.
Her Sonora-based attorney, Brad Young, said in interviews with The Union Democrat that Columbia Elementary’s lawyer and insurance representatives acted “reasonably and intelligently” during the mediation process.
“It was my sense that they felt it was time to put this in the past,” Young said.
The district’s Sacramento-based attorney, Alesa Schachter, said Columbia Elementary “strongly disputes any liability” in the claim.
Two community members, Marilyn Fullam and Sarah Little, addressed the district’s handling of the crimes Tuesday. Last year, Fullam said Pendley and board members were “just trying to ignore this whole thing.”
“I’m still concerned with the cover-up of the cover-up,” she said Tuesday, adding that people from “out of the area” were following the situation.
Little, who previously compared addressing the board with talking to a brick wall, emphasized that her concern was with the district’s inaction after the crimes.
“It’s how it was handled,” she said.
The board’s composition has changed since the scandal, with two new members taking office last November and another being appointed just before Christmas.
Only five audience members were present at the Tuesday meeting, compared with the approximately 185 who attended a meeting in September of 2011 when Pendley publicly apologized for his son’s crimes.
Other public comments over the past several months have focused on Pendley’s doctoral degree, which he obtained from a diploma mill that has since closed, and the board’s November approval of more than $100,000 in bonuses for district staff members.
Paul Girard, a Sonora resident and one of Pendley’s most persistent critics, was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. Girard expressed trust in newly elected board member Jo Rodefer, who also criticized Pendley at public meetings.
“He just says he’s sick of it and he was going to leave it up to Jo to get it straightened out,” Girard’s wife Pat Dean said when reached for comment Tuesday night. “Our views have not changed, and we’re concerned about this child that has just been totally disregarded.”
Dean, a retired nursing administrator and high school teacher, added she was extremely disappointed in the amount of the settlement.
Meanwhile, Columbia Elementary administrators expressed pride Tuesday in a financial audit report for the 2011-12 fiscal year. The report by public accountants found no questionable expenditures or mismanagement of funds during that time.
“An outside source comes in and has carte blanche on our books,” said Board President Laura Phelan. “When you hear these things about our … finances being fishy or whatever, it’s, like, no.”
School security was another topic of discussion Tuesday. Pendley said district staff members will be reviewing safety plans this week in light of the Dec. 14 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut that left 20 first-graders and 6 women dead.
“It’s impossible to predict scenarios and those kinds of things, but that doesn’t mean you can’t try,” Pendley said.
Principal Ed Pelfrey spoke about a remembrance project initiated by Columbia Elementary eighth-grade teacher Kim Ramorini.
“Each day she goes in with a picture of one of the children and they talk about that child’s life,” Pelfrey said. “We have a great, boisterous eighth-grade class. She said it’s absolutely silent. The kids are really inspired.”
Ramorini’s students are also engaging in “random acts of kindness” to honor the victims and listed the acts next to their names in the classroom.
“Honestly, I was moved to tears,” Pelfrey said.
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