A San Lorenzo Valley High School teacher who was accused of misconduct has been allowed to resign after many of the allegations against him weren’t proven.
William Winkler was placed on administrative leave last year after being accused of sexual assault and other bad behavior by former students. But a San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District probe found a number of the claims to be “unfounded.”
In particular, SLVUSD found no evidence for some of the more serious sexual assualt allegations.
However, a Feb. 23, 2022, proposed dismissal letter the district sent to Winkler, which GT’s sister paper the Press Banner obtained through a Public Records Act request, reveals it was able to substantiate many of the complaints of unprofessional conduct lodged against the science teacher over the years.
This includes reports of disorganized instruction, picking on students and making inappropriate advances toward others in the learning environment.
“It was concluded that you failed to exercise good judgment in the performance of your duties as a teacher and failed to maintain appropriate professional boundaries with district students,” the document states. “It is clear that your inappropriate classroom conduct is an ongoing issue as you continue to repeat the same unprofessional behaviors despite numerous directives to correct such misconduct.”
The heavily-redacted document outlines a pattern of poor performance that stretched back about a decade. It reveals Winkler, who was named SLVHS’s Teacher of the Year in 2017, had been the subject of several complaints beginning in 2011 and was forced to undergo corrective training.
The complaints include several instances of aggressive and demeaning behavior toward students, showcasing inappropriate, sexual objects in his classroom and downloading “inappropriate images” to his district-issued computer, including some of “partially clothed young men” and “art images of nude women.”
On May 30, 2012, Winkler was reassigned to the District Office, until June 4 that year, and then placed on paid administrative leave until the beginning of the next school year, while a SLVUSD investigation into his behavior concluded.
Then on Aug. 6, Winkler got the investigation results and a Notice to Return to Work.
The next three entries in Winkler’s disciplinary record included in the documents obtained by this publication are redacted, but he appeared to have course-corrected, as he went on to be named Teacher of the Year in 2017.
But within a few years, problems had begun to surface, once more.
Beginning in the 2019-20 school year, multiple students filed complaints against Winkler, citing aggressive and inappropriate behavior.
One complaint states that Winkler multiple times called a Black student a “terrorist” after she blurted out answers without being called on in his class. In another incident, Winkler was reported to have held a box cutter to a student’s throat in what was deemed a joke.
“This type of behavior is highly inappropriate, dangerous and against district policies and rules for school safety,” the district told Winkler. “This kind of behavior will not be tolerated by the district.”
But it wasn’t until Winkler was accused of sexual assault last year that the district took action against the educator.
These claims, unsubstantiated by SLVUSD investigators, emerged via an anonymously-run Instagram account called Santa Cruz Survivors Speak and through a student who accused another SLVHS teacher, Eric Kahl, of misconduct.
A moderator for the social media page told the Press Banner, via email in April 2021, it was started by former SLVHS students who wanted the district to hire new faculty, institute consent classes for students, and provide better professional development for employees.
They said they received upwards of 300 stories from victims, primarily from across San Lorenzo Valley and Santa Cruz County, and shared the SLVUSD-related reports with district officials.
In April 2021, former Superintendent Laurie Bruton announced Kahl and Winkler had both been placed on administrative leave.
Trustees voted to allow Kahl to resign after investigators found it was more likely than not that he had engaged in “predatory grooming” of current and former students. His final day was Oct. 15, 2021.
But the investigation into Winkler continued to drag on.
At an April board meeting, SLVUSD agreed to move forward with removing Winkler, after a unanimous vote in closed session, on a motion from Trustee Stacy Newsom Kerr seconded by Trustee Jacqui Rice.
SLVUSD Board President Mark Becker was absent from the meeting.
Ultimately, Winkler was permitted to resign. His lawyer, Joseph Cisneros of The Biegel Law Firm, sent the Press Banner a statement approved by the district about the separation agreement.
“As it pertains solely to stories that were anonymously posted on Instagram about Mr. Winkler, those stories were investigated by an outside independent investigator,” the statement reads. “The stories could not be corroborated by any witness. As such, the outside investigator found that all these stories were unfounded and thereby Not Sustained.”
Reflecting on his 36-plus years since he first strode into SLVHS, Winkler expressed—through his lawyer—his “deep gratitude” to the district and the San Lorenzo Valley community, as moves “into the next chapter of his life.”
Meanwhile, former SLVUSD teacher Michael Henderson, who’d been accused of abusing a 10-year-old girl during private after-school tutoring, was sentenced to six months of home confinement after he pleaded guilty to a felony assault count.
And Ned Hearn, who worked as SLVHS vice principal and as an administrator at the District office, is currently facing a child sex abuse lawsuit in Solano County. His last paid day with SLVUSD was July 8.