The Moraga School District learned firsthand how difficult firing a tenured teacher can be.
It took 17 months to fire former third-grade teacher Charles Bateman even though an administrative panel ruled he should be terminated for "immoral conduct" and "evident unfitness for service" after it found he touched six girls under their clothing in his classroom in 1993. It took six years before he lost his teaching credential.
Two decades later, the statutory due process laws in California remain largely unchanged.
Bateman was a teacher for 23 years, his final seven at Rheem Elementary School in Moraga. The once popular teacher, now 69 and living in Brentwood, according to public records, taught third grade in the 1992-93 school year.
On Feb. 23, 1993, two parents of girls in his class came forward to Principal Paul Ricciardi after reading of the abuse in a victim's diary. In the end, six girls came forward with most claiming Bateman reached under their shirts to rub their back, stomach and chest areas, and sometimes under the girl's pants waistbands, according to court documents.
Ricciardi appropriately performed his legal "mandated reporting" duties that day and contacted Child Protective Services and Moraga police and Bateman was immediately placed on administrative leave.
The school board voted the next month to fire him, but Bateman appealed. In September 1993, all six girls testified at a hearing at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence panel. Bateman was paid his full salary during the investigation and the California Teachers Association paid his legal bills.
Bateman's defense during the administrative hearings was that he was an affectionate hugger and that any inappropriate touching was unintentional.
Testimony during the hearing also brought out more troubling realizations about retired school administrator Bill Walters, who served as principal of Joaquin Moraga middle school when Bateman taught there. Walters was also entangled in the district's 1990s child sex abuse scandal when he failed to perform his legal mandated reporting duties after learning of another teacher accused of abusing students. This failing, critics say, helped lead to further abuse.
In a 1986 teacher evaluation by Walters, he writes about Bateman: "It is imperative that Chuck use extreme caution with his physical interactions with students so as not to be misinterpreted by the community and the district."
The review referenced a letter sent to Walters from a parent that stated Bateman "engaged in more physical interaction with the girls in his classes than he did with the boys," according to documents released after a public records act request by this newspaper.
Rheem Principal Ricciardi also "cautioned" Bateman on occasions before 1993 "that he should be careful to avoid physical interaction with students, which could be interpreted as being inappropriate," according to commission records.
The administrative appeal ended with the commission voting unanimously to terminate Bateman; however, he petitioned Contra Costa Superior Court to overturn the decision.
Bateman's attorney was Priscilla Winslow, who now is acting chief counsel for the California Teachers Association, running the union's legal services division. She did not return a call for comment, nor did Bateman.
Bateman lost his appeal, but he continued to fight the state to keep his credential. It's unclear if he ever taught at another district during his fight while his credential was still valid.
Bateman was never charged with a crime.
Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.
Feb. 23, 1993: Moraga principal calls police after six girls in Charles Bateman's third-grade class claim the popular teacher touched them under their clothes. He is immediately placed on administrative leave.
March 23, 1993: The school board votes to fire Bateman.
April 16, 1993: Bateman appeals the firing.
September 1993: The girls testify at a hearing at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School before a three-person Commission on Professional Competence panel.
Oct. 26, 1993: The commission votes unanimously to terminate Bateman.
Jan. 12, 1994: Bateman petitions Contra Costa Superior Court to have the decision overturned.
July 29, 1994: Contra Costa Superior Court Judge James Marchiano denies Bateman's request to overturn his firing. He is officially terminated.
Feb. 16, 1995: The parents of the girls are alerted that the state is moving to revoke Bateman's credential.
April 5, 1996: Bateman fights for his credential; parents of children asked if girls could again testify.
March 25, 1999: Bateman's credential is revoked.