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  • Ashly McGlone

Poway Teachers Ousted for Relationships With Students Kept Working in Education

Poway Unified agreed not to mention to future employers that two high school teachers at separate schools had been forced out for having romantic relationships with students. Their cases reveal how district decisions, and a slow-moving state system, can leave future employers largely in the dark, allowing those ousted for misconduct to continue working with youth.

Two Poway Unified School District teachers who lost their teaching credentials for sexual misconduct with students kept working in the education field thanks in part to resignation deals that forbid the district from revealing the misconduct to prospective future employers.

Their cases reveal how local school district decisions, coupled with the state’s slow-moving educator misconduct reporting system, can leave future employers largely in the dark, allowing those ousted for misconduct to continue working with youth.

Records obtained by Voice of San Diego as part of an ongoing investigation show the Poway district signed confidential resignation deals with two men who worked at different schools and whose alleged misconduct took place years apart – but whose cases have some striking similarities.

Westview High School English and philosophy teacher Joshua Cottrell resigned in 2011; Del Norte High School advanced psychology, English and social studies teacher David Wayne Williams resigned in 2016.

Poway investigated both teachers for sexual relationships with female students who had turned 18 their senior year. Both students eventually told district officials rendezvous with the men occurred in their classrooms after forming deep emotional bonds over life struggles.

Neither Cottrell, now 43, nor Williams, now 36, responded to repeated requests for an interview.

Cottrell’s teaching credential was revoked in 2013 and Williams’ was revoked in March 2018, “because of misconduct,” according to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing website.

The revocations came years after the pair landed jobs working for private educational firms, shortly after leaving the classroom.

Williams resigned from Del Norte High in November 2016 and found work in March 2017 at the OtterCares Foundation, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Until recently, an online OtterCares biography listed Williams as the impact and education director and touted his 10-plus years of teaching experience, as well as his “huge heart for students.” The bio said he worked on Project Heart, a philanthropy-focused education curriculum for students grades four to 12.

On Aug. 27, OtterCares’ attorney Teresa Nugent declined to answer any questions about Williams’ work, declined to say whether the foundation did a reference check with Poway Unified before hiring him and declined to say whether the organization was aware his teaching credential was revoked for misconduct.

As of Aug. 31, Williams’ biography is no longer on the OtterCares webpage. OtterCares Executive Director Linda Crume did not respond to inquiries asking whether Williams was still employed.

Cottrell, a Poway High graduate himself, left Westview High in June 2011 after spending several months on paid leave and began working as a learning consultant for Cengage Learning in August 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile.

Cottrell and others were credited in a 2016 college sexuality textbook as consultants “who helped focus our understanding of the needs of sexuality instructors and professors.”

Cengage officials told Voice of San Diego they do thorough background checks on all employees, which includes confirmation of past employers, as well as a criminal record and nationwide sex offender registry check.

“Mr. Cottrell works in our higher education business as a customer success manager who assists faculty with using our digital products and services, and students with buying and using our digital products,” wrote Susan Aspey, senior vice president of public affairs for Cengage, in an email.

Aspey said Poway did not disclose the misconduct investigation and Cengage was not aware of his 2013 credential revocation.

Poway Unified has purchased textbook curriculum from Cengage for sports medicine, TV production and floral classes, and received two grants from OtterCares since 2017, according to district officials.

District spokeswoman Christine Paik said staff is not aware of any work performed for the district by Williams or Cottrell through the firms, but wrote, “if the District was ever made aware that either would be working with the District as a consultant, the District would insist on having them removed from the account.”

‘That Process Can Get Lengthy’

It took the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing nearly 21 months to revoke Cottrell’s credential, and 16 months to revoke Williams’ credential after receiving misconduct reports from Poway. Commission spokesman Joshua Speaks declined to comment on their specific cases.

But in general, Speaks said in an email investigators take time reviewing and gathering witness statements, locating other potential victims, and may need to request other official documents.

“The more serious the charges, the more important it is to ensure that the case is as airtight as possible,” he wrote. Then educators may respond to the charges, and hearings are held by a commission committee and later the full commission to decide whether to take disciplinary action. “Even without further appeals, that process can get lengthy.”

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