CHS teacher under investigation for inflammatory COVID-19 comments to students-updated
by Mick Rhodes | firstname.lastname@example.org
A Claremont High School teacher was off the job Friday after inflammatory comments allegedly made to students Thursday resulted in the school district opening an investigation into the incident.
Witnesses say Rosalinda Castillo, a physical education teacher opposed to COVID vaccines and testing, told her students on Thursday she refused to get the vaccine, that “testing sites have run out of supplies,” the vaccine will sterilize them (according to a Finnish study), and that she doesn’t want the vaccine to stop her reproductive system from allowing her to have children. She also is said to have told her students to “fight for their rights.”
Castillo’s claims regarding vaccine-caused reproductive damage, as well as the assertion that testing sites are running out of supplies, are false.
Claremont Unified School District is now investigating the incident, gathering evidence and interviewing witnesses, though CUSD Assistant Superintendent, Human Services, Kevin Ward, repeatedly declined to confirm the name of the staff member being investigated.
The investigation could take days or weeks to complete, and, if the facts dictate, could result in a variety of actions, from nothing, to a written reprimand, all the way up to dismissal, said Ward.
In a Thursday email to a parent, Claremont High School Principal Brett O’Connor wrote: “I was made aware of Ms. Castillo’s comments to her students today. We take these matters very seriously and have initiated an investigation. Your child is safe coming to school tomorrow and will not be subject to any comments from this teacher.”
Reached by phone Friday, O’Connor refused to comment and referred the COURIER to Ward.
Ward, in a Friday morning text to the COURIER, said: “Yesterday, several students and parents reported comments made by a CHS teacher during class. The teacher is not at school today and CUSD has launched an investigation into the reports. I cannot comment on an active investigation.”
If the investigation determines Castillo indeed said to students said what witnesses reported, does Castillo’s speech violate district policy, California Educational Code or her employment contract? Ward declined to comment on that as well.
“I’m not going to hypothesize,” he said. “I need to be an impartial investigator. So I think at this point I need to collect the facts and make a determination about it. Free speech law and what people have the right to say and not say, and what teachers have the right to say and not say, is very complicated. So we’ll be working with our legal counsel to make sure we pursue with the full effect of the law what we can do.
“The focus at this point is the collection of the facts. When you have an incident that occurs, the primary focus right away is to collect the facts before the data gets tainted, or the information gets tainted.”
Ward was at CHS this morning to begin that process. Other district administrators are also in the process of collecting facts, he said.
Typically, CUSD protocol is staff members are placed on administrative leave while under investigation for “a complaint that rises to a high level of concern,” Ward said. He would not say whether or not Castillo had been placed on paid leave.
“And you do that to maintain the fidelity of the investigation,” Ward said. “You start with witness statements, they’re collected, and any other facts, data, video. You’re basically collecting all the evidence around that. And what happens is after you do the collection of all that information is the staff member is interviewed … and presents any evidentiary fact or hard evidence. You spend that time during the investigative period really trying to get out all of the information and data.”
After gathering evidence, Ward will make a finding of fact.
“Based on the facts, was there a law violated? Was there a rule violated? Was there an [educational] code [violated]? Or, was it a contractual violation? And then, what happens from there will depend on that finding. It works kind of like a trial. Basically the board of education could hear those matters. So it’s a matter of presenting all of that. I could also go before an administrative hearing officer. There’s kind of a number of different options depending on the severity of the matter.”
Staff members have the right to representation during any disciplinary proceeding, Ward added.
The investigation could last from days to weeks.
“I’ve done a couple of these in my career, and most of them have been a couple weeks, although I’ve had some that have been longer,” Ward said.
Today is the deadline for CUSD employees to comply with the state heath order mandate that all public school staff must either be vaccinated or submit to weekly COVID testing in order to remain in their jobs. Though Ward declined to comment, or even to name Castillo as the person under investigation, it’s reasonable to question whether the teacher’s alleged Thursday outburst was tied to the impending deadline for her to advise the district of her plans in that regard.
Three district employees have asked for religious exemptions from the state’s vaccinate or test mandate. One has accepted CUSD’s offer of a year off without pay as an accommodation for the request. The two other employees hadn’t yet responded to the offer, Ward said on Wednesday.
Staff members who accept the district’s offer of a leave of absence will first expend his or her accrued paid vacation and sick time, and after that time will be on unpaid leave for up to one year, Ward explained. Under the agreement he or she could return to work at any time inside of that one-year unpaid leave period.
“If the mandate changes, or if their vaccination status changes, or there’s a new test that comes out that they’re willing to take, whatever the conditions are, as long as they can become compliant with the state health order, they can come back at any time,” Ward said.
If the staff member’s leave stretches beyond a year, he or she will then be offered the option to return to work or resign.
“There’s really no other leave options after that,” Ward said.
Castillo’s base salary in 2018, the latest figures available on Transparent California, was $74,174. Her benefits package boosted that figure to $104,222. The COURIER made a written request to CUSD to determine how long Castillo has been a district employee. It is awaiting a response.
The COURIER reached out to Castillo via phone, text, email and Facebook messenger, but did not receive a response.
This story is developing and will be updated as new information comes in.