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By Kirsten Andelman

March 11, 2024 (San Diego’s East County) -- Close to 100 people came before the Grossmont Union High School District board meeting February 22, eager to hear -- and be heard -- regarding disciplinary action taken against four educators at Santana High School after a teenager was sex-trafficked in 2021. 

A large group of parents criticized school officials for what they say was their inadequate response to the teen going missing. The parents of the trafficked child – both of whom identified themselves publicly – were the informal leaders of the assembled parents; over the last two years, they have formed a grass-roots child safety group called “RAD.”

Other speakers, many wearing black in solidarity with the disciplined staff members, praised the “demoted” educators, and implored the board to reinstate them.

The four staff members – all of whom were reportedly demoted from administrative to classroom positions -- include long-time Santana High principal Timothy Schwuchow, vice-principal Larry Oedewaldt, and special education directors Rose Tagnesi and Amiee Sage. 

But the trafficked student’s father, Walter Finn, told the board there had been a “cover-up” after his daughter’s five-day disappearance. “They know why they’ve been demoted,” he said of the four educators.

Jerry Schniepp, a retired principal in the GUHSD and former San Diego commissioner for the California Interscholastic Federation, said the board’s decision to leave Mr. Schwuchow and Mr. Oedewaldt in place for the rest of this school proves they still have full confidence in them.  Asking them to stay at the helm and begin their demotion until the fall “reeks of insincerity,” Schniepp said.

“Tim Schwuchow is the unquestioned leader of Santana High School,” Schniepp said about Schwuchow, who has been the principal there since 2007.  “There have never been two more solid administrators than Tim and Larry, and I firmly believe they did nothing wrong, and knowing them, they wouldn’t do anything wrong.”

Shannon Medford, identifying herself as the trafficked student’s aunt, tearfully told the board that her niece had spent five days living in “filth” in an East County motor home.  “This should not have happened to her,” she said, echoing the refrain that more could have been done to protect the student.

But despite the reference to the motor home, it was not clear if any of the trafficking activity was alleged to have happened on any of the Grossmont campuses, or whether it involved any of their technological devices.

Addressing the personnel investigations, speaker Priscilla Schreiber, a former GUHSD trustee, said: “Facts have exposed negligence, coverup and a culture that breeds impropriety. Heads must roll.”

Lisa Petri (photo, right), a 35-year teacher from Monte Vista High School, brought the board a “letter of support” for Oedewaldt, which she said was signed by “well over 100” staff members from the school.  She also implored the board to reinstate Oedewaldt, the vice-principal who had transferred from Santana to Monte Vista approximately two years ago, and who is due to be returned to the classroom in the fall.

As Petri walked to the parking lot with a group of others dressed in black, a group of parents loudly heckled them. “Human traffickers! Trafficker protectors!” one parent called out to the departing group of educators who had supported Oedewaldt.

Grossmont Union School District representative Collin McGlashcon would not comment on the personnel decisions made by the board, the events involving the trafficked student, and what – if any – role the schools had in the sad incident.

But McGlashcon said that in 2022, the district passed a resolution making human trafficking prevention a top safety priority for the district, and also hired a new director for school safety. 

“Our district really put that issue into focus, because of course it’s a horrific crime, a serious issue, and we want to protect our students as much as possible,” said McGlashcon.  The new school safety director, Jay Farrington, came from a background of 26 years in law enforcement, and served in the Navy. “He works to enhance our training for our safety teams at our sites, he responds to emergency situations, does safety assessments and makes recommendations for infrastructure and equipment improvements at all of our school sites,” McGlashcon said of Farrington.

As of February 29,  Schwuchow is still listed as “Principal” on Santana High’s website, though a person answering the phone at Santana that said: “I’m not sure if he’s checking his emails.”  When asked for a comment from Santana, the person said “it won’t be coming from [Schwuchow],” and referred media calls to district headquarters.

Oedewaldt is listed as a vice principal on the website of Monte Vista High School, and the two special education directors were listed as employees of GUHSD.

The assembled parents – many of whom said they were part of “Rad” – heaped praise and support upon Finn and his wife, Sharie Finn. 

“Out of something horrible, this has now happened,” said Amy Reichert, the one-time County Supervisor candidate who came to lend her support to the victim’s families.  Reichert said that following the trafficking incident, the Finn family started “Rad” in order to help locate and recover missing and trafficked children.  The majority of the families present for the board meeting, Reichert said, were part of the “Rad” movement.

Reichert said the label “rad” started as a reference to Reactive Attachment Disorder, which one of the trafficking victims suffered from, but it also encompasses the energy of the parents trying to help trafficked children. “All of these families, they’re just so rad,” she said.

Sharie Finn (photo, right) said that she and “Rad” volunteers have been blamed for the demotion of the educators. “Just to be clear, the RAD movement is not responsible for anybody’s disciplinary actions,” she said. “What we are responsible for is recovering 51 children in almost three years, upwards of 75% of whom were from this district. The RAD movement will not apologize for bringing awareness to the district and this school board of a systemic problem. There are many layers to this issue. We’ve only scraped the surface.”

Schwuchow, according to the school’s website, began his career teaching English at Santana in 1995, and became principal in 2007.  According to Transparent California, Schwuchow’s salary in 2022 was $176,368, and his benefits package was valued at $33,139.

Tagnesi, a school psychologist, is listed as a director of Special Education Services on the Grossmont Unified website, and also on LinkedIn.  According to a 2023 special education decision from California’s Office of Administrative Hearings,  Tagnesi has a master’s degree in counseling, and holds credentials in special education and in multiple subjects.  She worked in special education for approximately 30 years both as a teacher and an administrator overseeing IEPs for students. According to Transparent California, Tagnesi’s salary in 2022 was $176,141.00 and her benefits package valued at $45,689.

Oedewaldt used to work at Santana High School, but has been at Monte Vista for the last two years, approximately.  According to Transparent California, his 2022 salary was $156,365., and his benefits package was valued at $49,032.

Sage is  listed in the telephone directory for Monte Vista High School, and on the Grossmont Union School District website as a “Director II Mild/Mod” in their special education department. According to Transparent California, her 2022 salary was $157,020., and her benefits package was valued at $48,571.

None of the four named educators were available for comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that a parent who heckled teachers in the parking was Charissa McCullough. She has denied this.

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