PIEDMONT (CBS SF) — An East Bay high school teacher who was the subject of an investigation after being accused of inappropriate behavior with his students has resigned, according to district officials.
Piedmont Unified School District officials sent out a letter on Friday announcing the resignation of Piedmont High School history teacher Mark Cowherd.
The outcry over the Cowherd returning to work despite the charges against him reached a boiling point over the course of this week, leading to his resignation.
“In addition to supporting our students however we can, we are working to identify qualified substitute and permanent teachers for the affected history classes and to assist seniors with pending letters of recommendation for their college applications,” the letter read.
The teacher, who has taught for 14 years, was the subject of an investigation after a complaint against Cowherd was filed earlier this year by recent graduates. Cowherd was accused of texting, touching and making inappropriate sexual comments to his students.
Cowherd was accused of texting, touching and making inappropriate sexual comments to his students.
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,” Booker told KPIX 5 during an initial report on the controversy earlier this week..
Officials said Cowherd was placed on administrative leave for three weeks during the investigation, but returned to teaching at the school after the conclusion of the investigation.
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.”
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.
While the Piedmont Police Dept. also investigated the case thoroughly and found no criminal wrongdoing, the district attorney’s office is still reviewing the case.
Wednesday night, a number of parents attended a district school board meeting and expressed outrage over Cowherd remaining on staff.
“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,” said concerned Piedmont High School parent Lisa Sherman.
Wearing pink and holding signs with hashtag #metoo, the crowd cheered on Sherman.
Sherman’s daughter was one of four female students who came forward in August accusing Cowherd of acting inappropriately with them and other students.
“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,” said parent Pear Michaels.
“We appreciate the courage and conviction of the students who shared their experiences, everyone who participated in the meeting, as well as those who shared their views through calls and emails to District staff and school board members,” the letter that went out Friday read.
The district also attempted to reaffirm the staff members’ commitment to supporting the social, emotional and academic well-being of Piedmont High students, with adminstrators speaking with all of the students on Thursday and assuring that they could safely voice any concerns or speak with academic counselors with any concerns.
The letter also said middle and high school students could use the District’s “Speak Up!” form for filing signed or anonymous complaints. The Uniform Complaint form is available for all students and parents who wish to file a formal complaint, which necessitates an investigation.