A Pacific Grove High School sports medicine teacher is on administrative leave as of Oct. 12 for allegedly inappropriately touching two female students, after one of the students publicly complained to the P.G. Unified School District board in a meeting on Oct. 7.
This is the second time the teacher, Anthony Payan, has been on leave for the same allegations. The Pacific Grove chiropractor was initially put on administrative leave in August, after the two students reported incidents to school officials. The Pacific Grove Police Department investigated and turned their findings over to the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, which declined to file charges. Payan was then allowed to return to class.
That return prompted one of the students, Fiona McFadden, to write to the board. Her letter was read out loud by her mother, Mary Toole McFadden, to board members at the Oct. 7 meeting while her daughter was playing in a volleyball game at the school. In it, Fiona McFadden alleges she was sexually assaulted when Payan slapped her on the bottom more than once.
“On Aug. 12, while I was bent over taping my classmate’s ankle, Tony Payan slapped my butt twice, not softly or accidentally, asking to get by to grab a roll of athletic tape which was not in close proximity to me and could have been easily obtained without assaulting me. Five minutes later he did the same thing, slapping my butt with his full palm leaving me no time to move away or stop him,” McFadden said.
She said she was “shocked and uncomfortable,” but went on with her day, until the next week when she shared her story with an English teacher and the PGHS Vice Principal Sean Steinback. She was interviewed several times by Pacific Grove Police and Steinback thinking she would be “served with justice.” Two weeks later, she said, Steinback called her to let her know Payan would be returning to the classroom. “Needless to say I dropped the class,” McFadden wrote in her letter.
On Oct. 12, five days after the board meeting, PGUSD announced that “a district employee” was being placed on administrative leave while the district conducted its own investigation in answer to “concerns expressed by some members of our community” at the meeting.
“While we understand that the Pacific Grove Police Department and the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office have investigated allegations against a district employee and have concluded that no criminal charges will be filed, the district will be undertaking its own investigation to make sure that no student is subjected to inappropriate conduct by a District employee,” the announcement on the district’s website reads.
“We do not know at this time how long our investigation will take or where it will lead us. Currently, it is premature to make that determination until all the facts are known. However, while we are investigating the employee in question will be on administrative leave.”
Pacific Grove Police and the District Attorney’s Office would not confirm that it was Payan they investigated, only that an investigation of a PGHS teacher occurred. Assistant District Attorney Chris Knight said the P.G. Police “did a very thorough investigation,” and that the DA’s Office “did not find any evidence of sexual intent or motivation and that's why we declined to file charges.”
The school district office has been closed this week during a fall break. An email was sent to Superintendent Ralph Porras with questions about the district's investigation, but there was no immediate response, other than an automatic reply saying Porras would have limited access to email until he returns on Oct. 18.
McFadden had multiple questions for the board about Payan’s return to the classroom, calling it a “disrespectful and utterly disgusting choice.”
“Why is it that I have to live with the fear that I will have to face the man who assaulted me every time that I go to school?” she asked. “How long until I and the rest of the students affected get justice? What is the number of children that must be assaulted for the school district to take action? Is my story, trauma and discomfort and sorrow not enough? The results of this process have disgusted me,” she said.
The incident in class was not the first time McFadden felt uncomfortable around Payan, she said. During the spring semester while class was held virtually, she claimed that Payan made inappropriate remarks to female students when they answered questions correctly, “such as ‘good girl,’ you’re gorgeous,’ ‘I love you,’ and plenty of others," McFadden said.
The parent of another student who reported her own incident to school officials described it as “sexual misconduct in the classroom,” and urged the board and district administration to make the situation better for the sake of students.
“The message cannot be left at the people who are brave enough to speak up suffer consequences and it's OK to get away with just a little bit of wrongdoing,” said Tara Tullius. “Our students are watching. They’re smart. We need to have all of our students understand what grooming behavior looks like and what boundary checks look like so that the message to our young women is that if you are brave enough to speak up we will do what's right we will do what's right. And we’re not in a position right now to say this is what ‘right’ looks like.”
The district urged "anyone familiar with any allegations against any district employee to come forward and share their experiences, information, and knowledge with the District.” Those with information were encouraged to contact Porras or Human Resources Director Billie Mankey.
A call to Payan’s chiropractic office was met with a recorded response by Payan, stating that he is not taking any new patients and not seeing current patients due to recent back surgery. A message left went unanswered.