L to R: AUSHD Superintendent Michael Matsuda; AUSHD Board of Education member Al Jabbar; Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Education member Ryan Ruelas; Anaheim Councilman Jose F. Moreno.

Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda wrote a letter of recommendation for a principal whom Matsuda knew had failed to report sexual abuse allegations to law enforcement, despite being legally required to do so, the OC Register reported last week.

The revelation regarding Matsuda’s recommendation of former John F. Kennedy High School principal Russell Earnest emanates from a lawsuit against filed against AUHSD by a current student and a former student, for allegedly concealing complaints of sexual abuse and harassment against a former water polo coach Josh Owens.

Owens was convicted in 2018 of a felony count of oral copulation of a victim younger than 16, a felony count of sexual penetration of a victim younger than 16, and six misdemeanor counts of child annoyance. He was sentenced to six months in jail.

According to the OC Register story:

“Anaheim Union High School District Superintendent Michael Matsuda wrote a letter of recommendation to the Duarte Unified School District on behalf of a Kennedy High School principal who police said failed to report sexual misconduct allegations to law enforcement or Child Protective Services as mandated by California law.

A Kennedy water polo coach allegedly began sexually abusing two female players and continued abusing a third after Kennedy’s principal, Russell Earnest, and at least four other Kennedy employees became aware but failed to report the earlier allegations of sexual abuse.

Earnest told a detective that he was aware of allegations against the coach more than a year before the coach’s arrest for multiple sex offenses but did not investigate those allegations, according to a police report.”

Matsuda did not respond to OC Register requests for comment.

The allegations initially surfaced when Kennedy High School teach Ian Sabala forwarded to Earnest and two other school staffers an e-mail he’d received from a former student warning of Owens behavior toward current students.  Sabala, like Earnest and the other two AUHSD employees, is a mandated reporter – but none of them notified law enforcement as required by law.

Sabala is also an officer with the district’s teachers union, the Anaheim Secondary Teachers Association.

Then-Buena Park police detective Todd Franssen met with Matsuda in November 2016 about the allegations:

Franssen was invited by Anaheim UHSD administrators to attend two meetings on November 29, 2016 with Kennedy water polo and swim team members and their families, according to a police report. Franssen said in his deposition that he spoke to Matsuda at the second meeting about the school’s handling of the Owens case.

“There was some inference there to some sort of liability and — on behalf of the school and school district,” Franssen recalled in his deposition.

On March 24, 2017, four months after Owens was arrested, Matsuda wrote a “letter of recommendation on behalf of Russ Earnest” to Duarte USD officials.

“I have worked closely with Mr. Earnest in his capacity as principal at Kennedy High School,” Matsuda wrote.

“Mr. Earnest also has personal qualities and characteristics that create great working relationships at AUSHD and foster important connections with staff, students, parents, and the greater Anaheim community,” Matsuda also wrote.

Two months later, Earnest was hired as associate principal of Duarte High School.

The attorney representing the plaintiffs, Morgan A. Stewart, expressed astonishment at Matsuda’s decision to recommend Earnest despite knowing about his failure to follow his legally mandated duty to notify law enforcement of the abuse allegations:

Stewart said “I’m not sure what’s going on with Matsuda.

“You’ve got a superintendent endorsing a guy who failed to make a report (about sex abuse allegations),” Stewart continued, “while you have all these employees who failed to report throughout the district.

(Left to right): Ryan Ruelas, Mike Matsuda, Al Jabbar.

Matsuda was appointed superintendent of the AUHSD in March of 2014. He had no prior experience as a school site administrator, but a long track record of progressive political activism, including an unsuccessful 1998 run for state Assembly as the Democratic nominee in the 68th Assembly District. His administration has been characterized by a politicization of the district, fostering progressive political activism among students, supporting the establishment of Ethnic Studies programs in AUHSD schools, and overt hostility toward charter schools. He is a close friend and political ally of Anaheim Councilman Jose F. Moreno and his coterie of left-wing allies on the AUHSD and Anaheim Elementary School District boards of education.