Lost in the Fog

by Mark Scaramella, May 31, 2017

We first encountered Point Arena School Counselor Holly Rawlins back in 2010 when she was a called as a witness at the civil trial when Point Arena Elementary School Principal Matt Murray sued PA Superintendent Mark Iacuaniello for misrepresenting the job Murray hired on to. The weaselly Iacuaniello then failed to back Murray up as Iacuaniello succumbed to the predictable pushback from teachers after the extremely professional Murray attempted to compel them to do the work they were hired to do and carefully monitor their classroom’s academic progress.

Rawlins was one of several school staffers who complained about Murray’s “style.” At that time Ms. Rawlins testifed that she and Murray had “philosophical disagreements.” When asked what they were, she said she remembered one had to do with “retention of students.” (Retention is educratese for holding a student back for a year.)

Murray's then-attorney Keith Faulder asked Rawlins, “How many students were retained while Mr. Murray was there?”

Rawlins did not remember.

“Were there one, two, ten?”

Rawlins did not remember.

“Isn't it true that there were no students retained while Mr. Murray was principal?” asked Faulder.

Rawlins still did not remember, but she “believed” there had been students retained.

Murray had not held any students back.

Rawlins had complained that Murray typed on his computer during their meetings in his office.

Faulder asked, “Could he have been taking notes regarding the meeting?”

Rawlins replied he should have written notes instead of typing them.

Rawlins also said that she felt it was “quite inappropriate” for Murray to have left a memo slip in her box that he wanted to meet with her. She believed he should have waited until she returned to her office to tell her he wanted to see her. She said often teachers would hold slips up in front of other teachers and mockingly say “Got another one!”

Rawlins also testified as an “expert witness” when it came to non-English speaking (ELD) students. Superintendent Iacuaniello had hired “ELD teacher” Heather Regelbrugge without discussing her hiring with Murray. After Murray observed Regelbrugge in the classroom, Murray told Iacuaniello that she should be removed from his school as she was totally unqualified to be an ELD teacher.

Iacuaniello refused. Shortly after that Murray discovered that Regelbrugge had falsified her credentials and had not taken the required test (the applicable CBEST test) to become a teacher (a misdemeanor according to Government and Education Code).

Expert witness Rawlins went to Iacuaniello and told him Regelbrugge was “great” and that she (Regelbrugge) should stay. Iacuaniello simply changed Regelbrugge's job description from “teacher” to “ELD coordinator” and kept her at the elementary school doing exactly what Murray had objected to.

(Coincidentally, Ms. Regelbrugge co-wrote an article in last week’s Independent Coast Observer entitled “Talking With Kids About Drugs,” where she is described as “Community Health Outreach at Redwood Coast Medical Services” in Gualala. And Mr. Daniel Ruggelbrugge is listed on Point Arena Unified’s staff as a special education teacher.)

In April, Ms. Rawlins again came to our attention when we read her letter to the Indendent Coast Observer:

She wrote:

“There are three things the community needs to know:

I have filed a Title IX violation complaint with the Office of Civil Rights against the Point Arena school district for the handling of alleged sexual harassment of female students at the high school.

Superintendent Brent Cushenbery accused me of creating a "hostile work environment." (I think that means telling the truth) and then banned me from campus. My banishment meant that I was not able to say goodbye to my individual counseling students or to the student body at large which is very confusing for vulnerable small children.

While at home on Wednesday, March 29, I received a phone call from the district office demanding that I return my school computer that same day. My concern is this: if Mr. Cushenbery pays a professional to recover confidential information from my computer, it is your information he will be reading via confidential counseling files. I'm so sorry.

If you are concerned about your confidential information, or your child's, being read by school district office staff and board members, I suggest you make your voice known. Call the district office at 707-882-2803. Trolling through counseling records is an ethical and moral violation that does not have to be tolerated.

Arena Elementary and Point Arena high school belong to you, the community. You elected school board members and their job is to make sure the superintendent's actions are responsible, honest, ethical and transparent. A school district is not a personal fiefdom to be ruled. And as we still live in a democracy, I hope you will take whatever action seems right and correct to you.

It's been my privilege to know so many of you and to have known your children.

Sincerely, Holly Rawlins, Mendocino”

* * *

Ms. Rawlins declined to provide any particulars about the “hostile work environment” allegations against her in her letter, choosing instead to advise parents about the “confidential information from my computer,” and remind people that “we still live in a democracy.” At the time that Ms. Rawlins wrote her letter in April we didn’t realize that she was a school counselor, not a teacher. So the files she was referring to were counseling files, not academic files, and may have contained “confidential” information.

This week we see in the Independent Coast Observer’s lead story that Ms. Rawlins has indeed filed a civil rights lawsuit with the US Department of Education against Point Arena Unified after Ms. Rawlins was, she says, fired because she blew the whistle on another teacher named Daniel Huddleston who was accused of the sexual harassment of female students.

Most of reporter S.J. Black’s ICO article is a rote description of the Civil Rights office’s processes and procedures, not the underlying case or allegations. But apparently Huddleston is accused of ineffectiveness as a teacher (hardly a unique complaint) and “unhygienic behavior including handing students’ papers back with bloody fingerprints on them.”

Rawlins says the school district has a list of eleven students who complained about Huddleston’s behavior in class, making them “uncomfortable” and “affecting their ability to learn.”

It’s hard to know what to make of the situation or the allegations since, based on the high level of sensitivity she showed in the Murray case, Ms. Rawlins seems pretty keen on co-worker behavior to the point that even Murray leaving a note in her staff cubbyhole was deemed "quite inappropriate."

The ICO report fails to mention whether Mr. Huddleston, a math teacher first employed by Point Arena High School in 2016, is still employed by Point Arena Unified. However, Point Arena’s current “faculty & staff” list does not include him. Minutes of a Point Arena Unified Board meeting say that Huddleston resigned in February after only about six months of teaching. For her part, Counselor Rawlins is still listed on the Arena Unified Elementary School’s “faculty & staff” list with the oh-so friendly email address of “hrawlins@auesfamily.org.”

Ms. Rawlins also was very appreciative of some money her elementary school got from the Mendocino Coast Children’s fund not long ago:

“Twice a year my school, Arena Elementary, gets a gift of money from the Mendocino Coast Children’s Fund. The dollars go into a special fund called “Arena Needy Kids,” and it is used for so MANY things! It buys the peanut butter and jelly we use to make morning snacks for our youngest children. It buys shoes for the poorly shod, sweatshirts for the chilly. I’ve used it for haircuts, basketball shoes, a team sweatshirt, and once to buy shower tokens for a child who was living without running water in his home. This money allows students to not stand out in the crowd of their peers. More than this, MCCF allows me to send students to camp for free, provides my students with back-to-school clothes and supplies, stocks my shelves with backpacks and sleeping bags for those who need them. In short, MCCF makes the lives of my student better! Forever grateful, Holly Rawlins, Counselor, Point Arena Schools”

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