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Police continue to seek information about Mt. Diablo district custodian arrested on suspicion of lewd acts with a child

MDUSD custodian John Astor was arrested Dec. 22 on suspicion of lewd acts with a child.

Walnut Creek police are still asking the public to come forward with information about Mt. Diablo school district custodian John Astor, who was arrested near his Walnut Creek home last Thursday on suspicion of lewd acts with a child under 14.

Today, General Counsel Greg Rolen confirmed in an email that Astor worked at Cambridge, Holbrook and Walnut Acres elementary schools. Rolen did not say whether the district intends to notify parents of the arrest or whether Astor worked at other campuses.

Polce suspect Astor of molesting a boy younger than 14 in Walnut Creek within a week of his arrest, according to detective Sgt. Jay Hill. Hill said Astor had not met the victim at any of the schools where he worked.

When I spoke to Hill today, he said he was not aware that Astor worked at Cambridge, Holbrook and Walnut Acres elementary schools. Police plan to bring the case to the District Attorney tomorrow, Hill said.

Walnut Creek police said they first learned of Astor a couple of months ago, when an adult reported that an alleged molestation occurred about 10 years ago in San Francisco. Hill said Walnut Creek police forwarded that report to San Francisco police.

At that time, Hill said, Walnut Creek police didn’t know that Astor was a school custodian. I have called the SFPD to find out whether they followed up on the report and hope to have more information tomorrow.

I also tried contacting Mt. Diablo district Superintendent Steven Lawrence and Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and Student Support. Both were out of the office on vacation today, but expect to return tomorrow.

At this time, I have not heard of any parent notifications being sent out regarding the arrest. Susan Petersen, director of elementary school support, told me today that she learned of the arrest yesterday and didn’t know where Astor worked or whether the district would notify parents.

When Walnut Creek police arrested Diablo View Middle School teacher Andrew Bruce Cottrell on suspicion of sex with a minor earlier this month, the district sent out a message to the school community and held a parent meeting the following Monday. Cottrell was arrested Dec. 9 on campus in front of some students. He was alleged to have had sexual relations with a former student.

The same day as Cottrell’s arrest, Lafayette police arrested special education teachers’ aide Stephanie Elliott at Springhill Elementary in Lafayette on suspicion of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman last year in a home near Walnut Creek. The charges were unrelated to the school or students, police said.

After that arrest, Lafayette district Superintendent Fred Brill alerted the community in the following e-mail:

“Message to Parents

The purpose of this communication is to inform you that one of our instructional aides at Springhill Elementary School was arrested today at approximately 11 a.m. According to the Lafayette Police Department, the charges have nothing to do with children or anything that occurred on campus.

At this time we have very little information about this police matter. Our focus will remain on the safety and education of our students. I can assure you that we are in close contact with the Lafayette Police Department, and we will continue to keep you informed as appropriate.

We appreciate your understanding and support.

Fred Brill, Ed.D.

Do you think the Mt. Diablo school district should inform parents about Astor’s arrest?

Posted on Tuesday, December 27th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 16 Comments »

Mt. Diablo district responds to Diablo View MS teacher arrest

Students returning to Diablo View Middle School today were reassured by district officials that support is available to students and staff, as the community digests the news that a teacher has confessed to numerous sex crimes involving a former student.

District officials will meet with parents at 6 p.m. to answer questions and address their concerns about the arrest of science and math teacher Andrew Bruce Cottrell, who was taken into custody Friday.

Besides the parent meeting, here are other ways the district addressed the issue, Superintendent Steven Lawrence said in an e-mail:

“1. We (met) with the staff prior to school to share the below plan and answer questions.

2. We had our crisis team available for students and staff to speak with.

3. Administrators spoke to all of the classes first period and let the students know if they needed support it was available.

4. (Principal) Mrs. (Patti) Bannister went to all of Mr. Cottrell’s classes and spoke with the students.

5. Other Diablo View teachers agreed to cover Mr. Cottrell’s classes during their preparation period for the remainder of the week.

6. Mrs. Bannister is working with science and math department members to ensure appropriate lesson plans are in place.

7. Mrs. Bannister is working with Julie Braun-Martin (assistant superintendent for personnel services) to identify a teacher to be in the classroom following winter break.”

Bannister sent home the following message to parents:

“December 11, 2011

To the Students and Parents ofDiablo View:

No words can express the gamut ofemotions that students, parents and staff at Diablo View have experienced since Friday following the public revelation of the alleged inappropriate behavior of one of our staff members. I believe at this time it is most important that we support our students and also remember those who are suffering tremendously: the victim, the victim’s family, and the accused’s family members. We need to continue to keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

The Diablo View staff is totally committed to supporting our students. In order to support the students in Mr. Cottrell’s six classes, Diablo View teachers will cover the classes for the remainder ofthis week. We will also work with the math and science teachers to ensure that daily lesson plans are created to ensure students continue their academic growth. When students return after winter break we will have a new teacher in place.

While the tragedy of this event cannot be minimized, there are some positive events taking place at school this week. Tuesday morning is the Principal’s List breakfast, Tuesday and Wednesday night are the band concerts, Thursday night is Ms. Brewington’s open house for her seventh graders, and Friday we are having the Clayton Valley Women’s Chorus for an assembly.

This evening at 6 p.m. there will be an informational meeting for parents with staff and district personnel to address any further concerns. The Diablo View community has always been extremely supportive and I know working together we will help our children through this difficult situation.”

On Sunday, Bannister sent out the following recorded message:

As noted in our online story, PFC President Megan Kommer told me she was satisfied with the district and school’s response, but she was concerned about negative comments being made by parents about the situation.

Are you satisfied with the district’s response?

Posted on Monday, December 12th, 2011
Under: Clayton, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 24 Comments »

Diablo View MS teacher confesses to unlawful sex with minor

Teacher Andrew Bruce Cottrell was arrested Friday at Diablo View MS in Clayton.

This afternoon, Mt. Diablo district Superintendent Steven Lawrence alerted the community to the arrest of Diablo Middle School teacher Andrew Bruce Cottrell.

Here is a link to Lawrence’s message:

Later, the Walnut Creek Police Department released further details, reporting that Cottrell, a 41-year-old Walnut Creek resident, had confessed to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor under 16 and lewd acts with a victim who is 14 or 15 years old.

Here is a link to the Walnut Creek news advisory:
Please be aware that it includes explicit information about the sexual charges.

Cottrell’s bail was set at $975,000.

Police arrested Cottrell at noon, when students were on campus. After school, word was still spreading about the arrest.

“Right now, the kids are all kind of hyper,” said Melissa Kirmsse, parent faculty club treasurer, on Friday afternoon.

Kirmsse said she was saddened by the news and concerned about the victim.

“My heart goes out to the child that is brave enough to come forward,” she said. “I hope this is not going to lead to a Penn State situation, where more kids come forward.”

Anyone who might have other information is asked to contact Walnut Creek police at 925-943-5844.

Posted on Friday, December 9th, 2011
Under: Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 28 Comments »