Allegations of sexual harassment shook up the Blaine County school board during its monthly meeting Tuesday, when a recent graduate claimed that he and a friend who was then a senior at Wood River High School were propositioned by a female school staffer in 2018.
The employee, who was not named, still works at the school—and the investigation that followed the alleged incident has sparked three internal complaints and a pair of threatened lawsuits from the reporting party’s mother, Shannon Maza, who works as director of human resources for the Blaine County School District.
Turner Maza, who graduated in 2017, told the trustees that he and a friend, who was a student at the time, were invited into the employee’s house for sex after driving the woman home from a party in Bellevue on June 2, 2018.
Turner Maza said the woman was unable to drive herself after the party; according to his mother, he was instructed by the host to take her home. His statement outlined a sexually explicit conversation during the ensuing ride.
“Upon arriving at the current Wood River High School classified employee’s house, my friend and I exited the car to say goodbye to her,” he told the board during the public comment period of its regular May meeting. “In the process, she continued to proposition both of us about how we should come inside, and that no one was home. My friend and I declined all offers and left.”
They told Shannon Maza the next morning.
In an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, Shannon Maza said she brought the allegations to administrators at Wood River High School the following Monday, June 4. Both Mazas said that neither they, nor the other witness, were contacted by the district during its investigation.
In an email Wednesday night, district spokeswoman Heather Crocker told the Idaho Mountain Express that the district fully investigated Maza’s claim.
“The district has been and continues to be vigilant about student safety,” Crocker said. “Our understanding is that the former student graduated in 2017 and the alleged event took place in 2018. When the district became aware of the allegation, the district conducted a thorough investigation despite the fact that the individual was no longer a student when the alleged event took place.
“Any violation of the Blaine County School District employee code of conduct may be cause for immediate discipline up to and including dismissal of employment.”
Crocker declined to comment on whether any disciplinary action was taken in this case.
“The district conducted a full investigation, and is prohibited from saying anything further about students or personnel matters,” Crocker said.
She also declined to comment on whether the district contacted the Mazas or the other witness during its investigation.
Maza told the Idaho Mountain Express that the June 4 meeting with school administrators led to a five-month “witch hunt” that culminated in a quiet end of her career at the School District this week. Maza was not among the 20 administrators recommended for annual contract renewal by Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes in a May 8 letter to the trustees, and on Tuesday night the board did not offer Maza a new deal. Her name is not listed among the staff voluntarily leaving the district on Tuesday’s agenda, either.
“Instead of investigating my allegations into inappropriate behavior, they investigated me,” Maza said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “It routes all the way back to what happened to my son.”
Through a series of interviews, Maza outlined a timeline of meetings in September, November, January and February that led to her serving the district with notice of two tort claims against Holmes: one alleging slander stemming from a scheduled performance review on Jan. 29, 2019; and a second alleging “harassment and bullying” in response to three internal grievances filed by Maza resulting from her independent investigations into inappropriate behavior at the high school, including the events described by her son.
In a Feb. 22 meeting, Holmes denied starting a rumor about Maza’s personal life, according to Maza herself and her lawyer, Fritz Haemmerle, who was also present. Maza also claims that during that meeting, she was called “insubordinate” by Holmes, and banned from Wood River High School.
Speaking for the district, Crocker declined to comment on specific allegations, calling it a “personnel matter.”
“She’s trying to discredit me,” Maza said of Holmes. “But this is really about what happened on June 2, 2018.”
The first notice of tort claim, seeking a minimum of $10,000 in damages for “slanderous conduct,” was received by board Clerk Amanda LaChance on Feb. 27, according to documents obtained via public records request by the Idaho Mountain Express. LaChance received the second notice, seeking the same amount, on May 2.
According to emails obtained by the Idaho Mountain Express, Haemmerle sent both notices to the board of trustees.
Holmes acknowledged both notices in separate emails to the trustees. On Feb. 28, she told board members that she had notified both the district’s insurance company and attorney Amy White about the possible lawsuit.
On March 1, LaChance emailed the trustees instructing them to avoid reading the initial claim based on advice from the board’s lawyer.
Both emails also suggest that the potential lawsuit would be discussed with legal counsel during a March 12 executive session.
A notice of tort claim is the first step in bringing a lawsuit against a public entity. The district has 90 days from receipt to respond to each letter, after which a claim could be filed in district court. Haemmerle said that if the School District does not respond, that would be treated as a denial and likely lead to the filing of a suit.
The School District does not intend to respond to either claim, Crocker said Thursday.
Meanwhile, each of Maza’s three grievances are moving forward according to district policy.
Citing a portion of Idaho code exempting personnel files from disclosure, the School District denied a public records request to obtain those grievances and accompanying internal investigations.
Haemmerle declined to comment on those ongoing proceedings.
Maza returned to work Thursday following a doctor-prescribed medical leave.
“They went on a witch hunt against me,” she said. “I know I’m not going to be rehired. I want my name cleared. I want a formal apology. And I want these allegations looked into. As far as I’m concerned, nothing’s been done.”