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HeadlinesTwo Milpitas High teachers let go after accusations of inappropriate behavior toward...

Two Milpitas High teachers let go after accusations of inappropriate behavior toward students

Throughout the year 2022, investigations of two Milpitas High School teachers were conducted due to allegations of inappropriate behavior toward students. The two teachers investigated were Toby Anderson and Lance Brookner. Toby Anderson was a Life Skills and World History teacher at Milpitas High School and mostly taught 9th- and 10th-graders, while Lance Brookner taught Principles of Finance, Accounting, and Marketing/Customer Service to 11th- and 12th-graders. Through a public records request to MUSD, The Beat was able to gather information on the investigations of both teachers. Both instances are completely separate from one another and have no major correlation. 

The Investigation of Toby Anderson 

“I think it was second semester when it started,” said one of Anderson’s students at the time of the investigation. The student was in Anderson’s Life Management class as a freshman and in Anderson’s World History class the following year, until Anderson was removed from teaching.

The investigation on Anderson started on February 3, 2022, when a staff member went into Assistant Principal Amanda Gross’ office to report complaints a student had about Anderson. That same day, the student was asked into her office and was given a verbal interview and asked to provide a written statement. She was also asked to provide a list of names of other students who were involved and comfortable speaking about their experiences. On February 5, 2022, the student gave the names of nine other students. 

From February 9 through March 10, Gross spoke to 36 students in total about their experiences with Anderson. Twenty-two of the students were randomly selected from current and past rosters. The students also gave both verbal with written statements. During the investigation, Gross noted that many students showed discomfort when asked to report on their experiences in the classroom. 

A variety of inappropriate behavior was mentioned during the investigation. Students had witnessed or experienced Anderson having touched students on their backs, shoulders, or heads. Anderson also had photos of students around his classroom and on his computer. Many of these photos were of him and a female student who looked like many of his other students: Asian girls who were petite with long dark hair. Anderson also had favorites in his class, and his favorites were mainly girls. Many students also mentioned Anderson said things that made them uncomfortable, which included a particular assignment in which Anderson asked students about their turn-ons and turn-offs. 

Along with these claims, students also shared that Anderson would share his phone number with the class and text and play games through text with students. Students also shared that he wanted and sought out specific students for his future classes. Students also said that he’d cause them distress and engage in bullying behavior, including one instance in which he allegedly sprayed students with a water bottle. 

 

 

There were also accounts of Anderson “shipping” students. “Shipping” is a term that derives from the word “relationship,” and can involve someone taking two people from either real life or fiction and wishing to put them into a relationship. In general, students complained about Anderson’s lack of professionalism in his class. 

During the investigation process, on February 10, 2022, it was determined that there was enough information on Anderson to put him on paid administrative leave. Assistant Superintendent of HR Jonathon Brunson spoke to Anderson at 1 PM that day to notify him. After the conversation, Anderson took his personal belongings and left. The investigating staff then took photos of the classroom and recovered an old yearbook and photos on Anderson’s desk. 

The next day, February 11, Gross and another staff member, Assistant Principal Skyler Draeger, went back into Anderson’s classroom and found a drawing of a penis on a box below his projector. Meanwhile, a female student provided five photos of Anderson’s Room consisting of things that had made her uncomfortable in his class. 

On March 2, 2022, during an interview with another student, Gross found that Anderson was still sending students assignments through the platform Google Classroom. Brunson warned Anderson in an email, stating, “It was brought to my attention that you set up a Google Classroom for our students. The concern I have is that you are on paid admin leave to be away from any form of contact with students, be it in person or electronically. Though I appreciate you putting lessons together, there can be no contact with students. This is a directive”. Brunson then told Anderson to send any assignments for students to either Principal Francis Rojas or Gross. 

Once the investigation was completed, Anderson signed a Settlement Agreement. The agreement included monetary compensation which included a total of $28,385.42 – the equivalent of two months of salary and benefits working at the school – along with his general Release and irrevocable resignation. The agreement maintained that it included no admission of liability for any parties involved. This was all made effective on June 20, 2022, resulting in Anderson no longer being employed at MUSD. 

The Investigation on Lance Brookner

On August 23, 2022, Lance Brookner was put on paid administrative leave due to multiple allegations of him having engaged in highly inappropriate behavior toward students in his classroom. Then, on September 29 of the same year, Brunson sent a letter to Brookner stating that he would be forwarding a Recommendation for Dismissal to the Board of Trustees. However, he also stated that Brookner was invited to share his version of events during a pre-disciplinary “Skelly” meeting.

The charges against Brookner for Dismissal included immoral conduct, egregious misconduct, evident unfitness for service, and persistent violation or refusal to obey school laws or reasonable regulations. 

Brookner had already been warned about his behavior before, when one student submitted an account of Brookner having shared an inappropriate story with her when she asked about a class project. In the story, Brookner spoke to a woman at a bar and shared that his watch told him that the woman “did not have any panties on.” When the woman stated that she did have panties on, Brookner stated that his watch “must have been an hour early.” When she heard the story, the student notified her parents, who then notified the Milpitas High School Principal at the time, Francis Rojas. Upon investigation, multiple students confirmed that Brookner had told the story. So, Rojas wrote a letter of warning to Brookner on April 20, 2022. Brookner defended himself, stating that he did not consider the “joke” to be sexual at the time, and didn’t know that his students had had a poor reaction to the story before speaking with Rojas.

The allegations against Brookner continued, however, when another student reported how Brookner inappropriately touched her during class as she did her work. She further reported that Brookner had asked her, “How’s my favorite student doing?,” and that she felt that something touched her butt as she sat down. Though she tried to ignore it and move up her seat, the touch followed her. Once Brookner left her desk, the student went to the bathroom to call her mother about the situation, after which she provided a statement to the District Administration. 

During the “Skelly” meeting, Brookner contended that part of his teaching style included touching and patting students for their good work. He emphasized that he did this to both male and female students, and would never touch above the shoulder blades. He denied that he would touch the student in the way that she described. He further explained that he’d had his hands on her desk, and it was impossible for him to have touched her butt. However, he did notice that she went to the bathroom after he left. He had no recollection of touching her shoulder, but denied ever having touched her butt.

Another allegation includes Brookner coming up behind a student and poking her sides as she stood at his doorway and looked for her water bottle. However, he insisted that he did not do so. 

 

 

A different student submitted a statement that included an email exchange where she told Brookner that she’d enrolled in the wrong Google Classroom class and that she’d like to have the correct code, to which Brookner replied, “Bad girl! lol!” She also stated that he once called her a “good girl” after she picked up a pencil for him, and he would stay close to her face whenever he spoke with her. Brookner stated that he might have said that to her, but he denied that his words had anything to do with anything sexual.

The same student also recalled a classroom example that Brookner gave of good customer service wherein he used the example of “a girl working at Victoria’s Secret and helping other girls get sized.” She further emphasized that many female students in his class felt the need to cover up around him. Brookner said that he did use Victoria’s Secret as a class example, but that it had not crossed his mind that Victoria’s Secret marketed women’s undergarments, and that it was simply an example of a company that utilizes target marketing. 

There were also reports of Brookner standing unusually close to students, including one instance in which a student stated that he sat so close to her that their knees and arms touched. Brookner at first denied this claim, but later stated that there was not much room at the desk and that they might have touched accidentally. 

According to Brookner, he had complied with the District’s expectations and had done nothing wrong in terms of the teaching style he employed after getting the letter from Rojas. 

In the investigation documents, it stated that his “unsolicited comments and particularized attention directed toward [his] underage female students further demonstrate [his] immoral conduct, which makes [him] unfit to instruct or associate with minors.”

On November 1, 2022, Brookner signed his official resignation agreement, which included his irrevocable resignation. The agreement also accounted for no admission of liability for any parties involved. No details on compensation were included in the document, and MUSD did not respond to questions regarding monetary compensation. 

Aftermath

Neither Anderson nor Brookner are currently employed at MUSD. According to MUSD Superintendent Cheryl Jordan in an interview with The Beat, “The individuals are no longer with our district. The investigations and resulting disciplinary actions have been completed.”

Following the investigation and removal of Anderson and Brookner, Jordan reported the district’s findings to the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which, after reviewing the cases, would be the ones to determine what would happen to Anderson and Brookner’s teaching credentials. Currently, according to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s website, Anderson and Brookner both still have their teaching credentials. 

Currently, all MUSD staff members must complete the Keenan Safe Schools Online Training, which includes training on sexual harassment prevention, mandated reporting, and child abuse/neglect. This training must be done by staff members every year. Anderson and Brookner had both taken this training at the time of their employment. 

One of Anderson’s students who was interviewed by The Beat was asked whether they were content about the outcome of the case. They stated, “I wouldn’t say I’m over the moon over how they handled the situation,” and added, “But at least he’s gone, at least he’s not here anymore.”

School Board President Christopher Norwood stated during an interview, “It takes a village. The staff at each of the schools should be strong enough and have relationships with one another to eliminate these types of things.” He also emphasized the importance of relationships between parents and teachers in order to raise concerns before things come out too late…

“Student voice matters,” said Norwood. “Making sure that we pay attention to student voice is extremely important because if not, then we fail.”

The Beat was unable to reach Anderson and Brookner for comment on this story.



 

 

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Maria Denise Cuenca
Maria Denise Cuenca
Maria Denise Cuenca is a Senior at Milpitas Middle College High School. As part of the inaugural class, she’s the editor for the student newspaper, the Stepping Stone, and works concurrently as the President of the school’s She’s the First Chapter, an organization that supports girl-centered programs throughout the world. As a writer for the Milpitas Beat, she has the opportunity to write about issues relating to homelessness, local politics, and women’s rights. For over a year, she’s been a proud intern for Camp ButterFLY, where she organizes meetings, designs flyers, and does marketing for the organization to further their mission of teaching women to be leaders and find a path towards a career. During her free time, she enjoys watching shows on Netflix and reading the news.

3 COMMENTS

  1. The beat may want to look closely at the leadership at the high school and the pathways of other leaders in the district who have stepped out of leadership to go back to the classroom. Counseling, team teacher, and in class supervision, could have prevented much of what resulted in a loss of teachers, in a teacher shortage district. Leadership here appears to a hammer not a help.

  2. I would like to comment on this as a former student of Mr. Anderson, if someone could please follow up with me. These accusations are dangerous and harmful too a person’s livelihood and reputation and I don’t believe they’ve been properly handled.

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