PIEDMONT (KPIX 5) — An East Bay high school teacher under investigation after being accused of inappropriate behavior with his students has parents wondering why he is still currently teaching classes.
The Piedmont Unified School District admitted that Piedmont High School social studies teacher Mark Cowherd, who has been teaching for 14 years, crossed the line and was unprofessional in many cases.
Cowherd was accused of texting, touching and making inappropriate sexual comments to his students. However, those allegations have not kept Cowherd from teaching at the school.
Piedmont Unified School District Superintendent Randall Booker said when the district was informed of the allegations against Cowherd, they started investigating immediately.
“We found that this teacher’s conduct was unprofessional and inappropriate,” said Booker.
Cowherd was placed on administrative leave for three weeks, but has since returned to teaching.
When KPIX 5 pointed out to Booker some of the behavior Cowherd was accused of — including inappropriate gestures and text messages and asking students for private meetings – and asked if it crossed a line, he replied, “It can and in some cases it did, and we found his conduct unprofessional and inappropriate. But again I want to be clear to draw a very distinct line. It wasn’t sexual abuse and it wasn’t sexual misconduct. That is a very clear line.”
When asked if that was where the line was drawn, Booker continued: “That is where the line is drawn in this case in my response to what I’m reading in social media. I’m hearing a lot of comments that that has occurred and that is not in any of the evidence we have ”
A district letter was sent to victims’ families saying evidence shows Cowherd engaged in inappropriate and unprofessional behavior and failed to serve as a positive role model at school and in the community.
The letter even listed Cowherd’s inappropriate actions, which included:
- Repeatedly asking students to meet personally and privately.
- Touching, grabbing, and/or holding students by their shoulders, heads, elbows, and backs.
- Calling students nicknames that made students feel uncomfortable and harassed.
- Sending inappropriate text messages and emails.
- Consuming alcohol in the presence of students.
- Making inappropriate and unprofessional comments that were interpreted to be sexual in nature.
- Asking inappropriate and unprofessional personal questions.
The Piedmont Police Dept. also investigated the case thoroughly, but found no criminal wrongdoing.
When KPIX 5 asked Booker if the district took appropriate action, even though Cowherd was back in the classroom, the superintendent replied in the affirmative.
When asked what message that sends to the victims, Booker said, “I think that the message it sends is, again, ‘We listen to you. We hear you, and we want to work with you and we do everything within our power to do that.”
A Piedmont Unified School District board meeting on Wednesday night was an overflowing with parents demanding to know why a teacher accused of inappropriate conduct with students is still in the classroom. Cowherd’s case was not part of the evening’s agenda.
Concerned Piedmont High School parent Lisa Sherman said, “I believe this board has made an egregious error in allowing Mr. Cowherd back into the classroom and I think you should all reconsider the decision you made.”
Wearing pink and holding signs with hashtag #metoo, the crowd cheered on Sherman.
Sherman’s daughter is one of four female students who came forward in August accusing Cowherd of acting inappropriately with them and other students.
Parent Pear Michaels said, “The district should not allow a predatory teacher who has sexually solicited, harassed, and intimidated his students to remain at the high school. Or perhaps we should just invite and welcome the former Mayor back.”
“What most students saw was that an investigation happened and it must have cleared Mr. Cowherd because he was welcomed back into the classroom,” Sherman said.
The board said while he acted inappropriately, his behavior wasn’t criminal and that’s why he was allowed back into the classroom just three weeks after students first came forward.
Superintendent Booker said, “This teacher’s conduct was unprofessional, inappropriate and we took steps to mitigate that conduct.”
But parents say it’s outrageous this teacher still has a job.
Parent Hope Saltzer said, “As a board I would ask that you examine your policy and set the bar higher.”
Michaels added, “Piedmont needs to step up, follow through, and support its students first and foremost, and I trust that that’s your goal.”
The school board president said she will be addressing this issue again at a closed session during an upcoming board meeting. She said they cannot discuss it publicly because they consider it a private personnel issue.