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It was November 2001, and Mitch Whitehurst had worked for Portland Public Schools for 19 years.He'd served mostly as an integration specialist -- a quasi-counselor to promote positive school culture and help black students fit in. By then, he was a dean, responsible for student discipline.When Soto mustered the courage to report him, it was the first time, records indicate, that Oregon's largest school district received a detailed first-person complaint that the charming educator and coach might pose a threat to students.But there are no records showing that the lawyer who investigated the complaint for the district ever bothered to talk to Soto, and Whitehurst went unpunished.Records and interviews show that the system protected Whitehurst, not children.District officials, including top lawyers, two human resource directors and at least three principals, downplayed complaints from students and staff as isolated instances, rumors or misunderstandings.He ultimately left under a cloud and surrendered his license in 2016, but only after a male colleague complained that Whitehurst mistreated him.That man's lawsuit alleging the district tolerated Whitehurst's bad behavior cost the district 4,000.
Soto said that having adults discount her story undermined her sense of self worth. "I sure as hell didn't feel protected by anybody." District leaders say they will soon put in place important changes that they believe will make it harder for warning signs to be ignored.Then, one day, she said, he made the sexually suggestive comment about her khaki corduroy pants."I was absolutely alone with him," she said 16 years after the incident.The Oregonian/Oregon Live reviewed police reports, personnel records and state and district investigations into Whitehurst and interviewed three student victims mentioned in those records.Two additional women who had never before come forward also agreed to be interviewed.