Belleview Elementary School answers grand jury

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat

Belleview School District will review its hiring and job assignment policies at the recommendation of the Tuolumne County Grand Jury, the school board promised Monday in its formal response to the 2013 jury report.

The jury weeks ago took the Belleview board to task for hiring Brennan Pendley, son of Columbia Union School District and Belleview School District Superintendent John Pendley, while he was being investigated for sexual misconduct in summer 2010.

A short time earlier, he had resigned from an after-school aide job at Columbia Elementary amid the allegations.

Belleview Elementary trustees said they considered Brennan Pendley's situation before hiring him for a custodial job and noted that he was innocent until proven guilty, according to the grand jury report.

"This was a temporary work assignment for the employee that lasted approximately two weeks, under the direct supervision of another employee while no students were on campus," trustees said in their response.

"However, in consideration of the finding, the board will review its policies for hiring and assignment of employees within six months of this report," the response said.

The grand jury had recommended that Belleview and Columbia policy "be developed to ensure that ongoing criminal investigations or pending criminal charges be resolved before a job offer is made or an individual is allowed to return to work."

Asked whether they would do anything differently if presented with the same decision again, Belleview trustees declined to comment.

The board first approved a response to the grand jury at a public meeting July 18, but needed to revise it because it hadn't listed the recommendations being addressed, John Pendley said. He said the format is required for grand jury responses.

Also on July 18, Pendley and board members refused to publicly disclose their response - a violation of California's Ralph M. Brown Act for open meetings, according to several media law experts.

Pendley and the board members said Monday they still didn't think they had violated the Brown Act, which requires that most documents considered by board members be made available to the public immediately.

Trustees "re-approved" the document Monday only because it needed to be reformatted, not because it was acknowledging a Brown Act violation, Pendley said.

The grand jury criticized Pendley for acting on a "conflict of interest" and placing his son's interests before the well-being of students when he asked Belleview trustees to employ him.

Pendley's own response to the grand jury findings indicated that he agreed with the jury's assessment.

"While the safety of students was never in jeopardy, the Superintendent takes full responsibility for this decision," he said.

He declined to speak Monday about whether he would have done anything differently, saying he did not trust The Union Democrat to "fairly'" represent his comments.

However, he said the grand jury itself had done "very fair" work.

"I think the grand jury did an excellent job with a very difficult and complicated matter," Pendley said. "I think it was a real challenge to try and deal with information that was over three years old."

The report said Columbia Elementary had been out of compliance with certain regulations when it hired Brennan Pendley and needed to avoid the "mere perception" of nepotism in hiring decisions, but largely exonerated the school district for its handling of the aftermath.

The jury's assertion that the district had not mistreated the victim runs counter to a tort claim filed on her behalf, which alleged that Columbia staff breached her confidentiality and characterized her as a liar.

Staff members also sent letters to a judge on Brennan Pendley's behalf, placing partial blame for the crimes on the victim.

The victim's tort claim resulted in a $100,000 settlement paid by Columbia's insurer.

Columbia trustees are set to approve their response to the grand jury findings, most of which pertained to Columbia rather than Belleview, at 6 p.m. today during a special meeting in the school district office at 22540 Parrotts Ferry Road.

The Union Democrat
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