San Diego Unified paid $1.5M to former students who say ex-La Jolla High teacher groped them, records show

Loxie Gant is now an advocate for victims of child abuse.
Loxie Gant, now an advocate for victims of child abuse, is one of five women who accused a former La Jolla High School teacher of sexually abusing them when they were students.
(Jarrod Valliere)

The San Diego Unified School District has paid $1.5 million to five former La Jolla High School students who said their physics teacher had sexually abused them at school, just-released district records show.

Their 2020 litigation accused Martin Teachworth, 66, a teacher at the school from 1990 until his retirement in 2017, of groping them as 16- and 17-year-old students. It also alleged that the school’s principal at the time, Dana Shelburne, and the district were aware of the accusations but let him keep teaching.

According to settlement documents released May 16 to The San Diego Union-Tribune under the California Public Records Act, the district agreed to pay $1.5 million, and Teachworth agreed to finance $25,000 of the settlement.

The agreement also requires the district to update how it handles sexual abuse allegations and to mandate sexual abuse and misconduct training for all administrators and managerial staff.

Under the agreement, the district must comply with any audit requests regarding its sexual harassment policies and adopt protocols for gathering and retaining documents for its Title IX office, which investigates sexual abuse and harassment claims.

The settlement stipulates that Teachworth and Shelburne will not work for the district in the future.

The district first announced the settlement — but not its terms — last month. Spokeswoman Maureen Magee said the lawsuit and a task force convened in 2018 had led to changes in how the district handles allegations of sexual assault.

“The district will continue to review and update these policies annually to remain current and consistent with the latest improvements in best practices and laws,” Magee said in the April statement. “The district respects the courage of the claimants in this matter for speaking out and remains committed to making the safety of its students a top priority.”

San Diego Unified officials declined to comment further May 16 about the settlement or the policies and procedures that have been updated.

Teachworth did not return calls seeking comment.

The lawsuit, originally filed in February 2020, alleged that Teachworth’s behavior was so prevalent that students began to refer to him as “Mr. Touchworth.”

Loxie Gant, one of four former students identified by name as plaintiffs in the suit (the other is identified only as Jane Doe), accused Teachworth of squeezing her buttocks twice in 2003 as she was standing between a desk and a bookcase. Gant, who was 17 at the time, said she immediately told other students, a teacher at her next class and the principal minutes after the incident.

Gant first spoke publicly about her allegations to Voice of San Diego. It published an article about the allegations in 2017, but the school district at the time said it had no records of complaints against Teachworth.

Gant told the La Jolla Light last month that she was moved to take action following the birth of her first child in 2015.

“Since becoming a mom ... I realized that in order to change things, I needed to advocate for myself and stop the cycle,” Gant said.

The lawsuit, filed in 2020, alleged that a now-retired LJHS physics teacher groped five underage students between 2003 and 2015.

In the years following her La Jolla High School experience, Gant became an advocate for children, working with California Assembly members to draft bills and serving on various caucuses.

“Being able to help others going through similar situations has brought me joy and put me on a new career path,” she said. “I can take what I have learned from going through this and help other victims and change the landscape of institutional child abuse.”

Gant told the Union-Tribune this week that she’s working with local officials to improve how reports of sexual abuse and assault are handled by institutions throughout California.

“We have to do better,” she said. “The first disclosure should be the last disclosure.”

Maura Kanter, another plaintiff in the suit, was a junior when she enrolled in Teachworth’s advanced physics class in 2011.

“Teachworth would often lean into Kanter as he spoke to her, rubbing his mustache against her ear,” the lawsuit said. “He would meow into her ear and say, ‘I’m a cat, meow.’”

According to the suit, Kanter reported Teachworth’s conduct to the principal in late December 2011.

The woman identified as Jane Doe filed a lawsuit in August 2020 that was consolidated with the first case later that year.

That student enrolled in Teachworth’s advanced physics class during the 2014-15 school year, according to her suit. During that time, she said, he touched her breast frequently, made sexual comments about her clothes and meowed at her like a cat.

She dropped the class before the end of the school year and complained about his behavior to four district employees, the lawsuit said.

— La Jolla Light staff writer Ashley Mackin-Solomon contributed to this report.