Report: Portland Public Schools ignored complaints of sexual misconduct of teacher

Mitch Whitehurst. (Photo: Portland Public Schools)

A scathing report shows Portland Public Schools repeatedly ignored complaints of sexual misconduct by a teacher involving students.

The allegations involve former teacher Mitch Whitehurst who worked for the school district for more than 30 years.

The district hired an investigative group to write the report.

The group's report shows complaints about Whitehurst started shortly after he joined the district. Whitehurst taught at more than a half dozen Portland schools from 1982 to 2015, including Marshall, Franklin, Lincoln and Jefferson high schools. The allegations in the report were supported by interviews with more than 100 people.

At a special school board meeting Thursday night to hear the report, several of the board members were visibly shaken and brought to tears.

"This report is painful to read, and it's infuriating," said school board member Rita Moore. "It documents an appalling and persistent breach of trust on the part of Portland Public Schools."

Choking back tears, Moore continued, "Student complaints were routinely dismissed or downplayed by adults in authority. Even when presented by allegations of gross misconduct, adults repeatedly failed to investigate or intervene."

The 320-page report makes a number of recommended changes in the way the school district handles sexual misconduct investigations, including hiring a semi-independent specialist to investigate allegations and set up a central clearing house for those reports. It recommended creating a central file system to store and cross-reference any complaints.

A Portland Public Schools spokesman said Friday that the statute of limitations has run out on the incidents it’s already aware of, so it’s unlikely Whitehurst would face any criminal investigation.

No one answered the door at Whitehurst's Northeast Portland home Friday. One of his neighbors couldn't believe what the report detailed.

"In fact, it startled me when you told me," said neighbor Anita Carlson. "It just doesn't seem like him. Honestly. It's hard to imagine."

The teachers' union, Portland Association of Teachers, released a statement Friday afternoon calling Whitehursts' alleged conduct "horrific" and promising to work with the district to make sure any allegations like this are "properly and fairly" investigated in a timely fashion.

A spokesman for the district said officials are already working to prioritize the report's recommendations and that the first may be implemented within a week.

"For far too long PPS has functioned primarily to promote the interests of adults," said Moore, "too often at the expense of children. That stops now."

Read the report:

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