A portrait of RCOE Trustee Bruce Dennis over a photo of the RCOE administration building.
The Riverside County Board of Education last week voted unanimously to censure Trustee Bruce Dennis over allegations including sexual harassment. (RCOE photos)

The Riverside County Board of Education last week voted unanimously to censure Trustee Bruce Dennis, remove him from his role as the board’s California School Boards Association delegate and suspend his discretionary travel and conference funds and abilities until further notice.

The action came three weeks after Board Secretary Sandra Martinez spoke publicly about the complaint she filed against Dennis for sexual harassment, unprofessional conduct and creating a hostile work environment.

“I was subjected to this behavior for 13 years,” she said at the June 5 meeting. “An investigation has recently been concluded on my complaint, and after interviewing 18 other people, all the allegations I have made have been corroborated and determined to be true.”

Martinez said that for one of those years, Dennis “doubled down” on his behavior and retaliated against her for telling him to leave her alone.

“He lied about me to his board colleagues, he routinely treated me unprofessionally and disrespectfully, he constantly tried to overreach and abuse his power, he routinely violated the Brown Act, he regularly lied to my boss about me, he continued harassing me at every opportunity, he continued inappropriately touching me, and he continued making comments about every minute detail of my appearance,” she said.

According to Trustee Kim Cousins, the 55-page report prepared as part of the investigation into the allegations was “alarming” and brought to light what he referred to as “predatory behavior” by Dennis.

“I almost feel like I need to have some kind of plastic coat on, because I feel like spillage has gotten on me,” he said. “And I’m very uncomfortable in this skin knowing what this report says.”

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At that meeting, the board unanimously voted to remove Dennis as the vice president of the board, replacing him with Board Member Elizabeth Romero, who thanked Martinez for coming forward and pledging that she will not face any further retaliation as a result of her complaint.

“To know that it was happening under your nose and, you know, people were fearful of coming forward until this brave woman to my right did is something that is very important for us to highlight and ensure that there is the appropriate action that’s taken on behalf of this board to ensure that no one else is subjected to this type of behavior,” she said. “So you have my commitment. You also have my apologies for not acting sooner.”

Dennis, who was not in attendance at the June 5 meeting, was given an opportunity to address the board ahead of its vote on the censure, but declined, choosing instead to leave while the board deliberated, saving his remarks for later in the meeting.

“While I respect and will follow the board censure motion adopted today, I will also remain a zealous advocate for the parents and students seeking better educational opportunities in this county,” he said before thanking Trustee Barbara Hale for her eight years of service to the board.

As part of the board’s farewell to Hale, who was named honorary president for the meeting, Superintendent Edwin Gomez announced the creation of the Barbara Hale Exceptional Scholar Award which will be given annually as a distinguished recognition for charter school seniors.

“We will present this award each spring at a special charter school student recognition event, and I think it’s fitting, because you are an advocate for all of our charter school students,” Gomez said. “And so this tradition of giving the Barbara Hale Exceptional Scholar Award will be in perpetuity in your honor.”

Hale, whose term ends July 1, will be succeeded by Jen Pham, who won with 56% of the vote in the March 5 election. Pham will be sworn in at the next regularly scheduled meeting set for July 10.

A full recording of the meeting can be found here on the RCOEs YouTube channel.

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Alicia Ramirez is the publisher of TN News and the founder and CEO of its parent company TN News.

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