A head counselor at a local school has filed a claim against the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD), alleging she was improperly punished and retaliated against for writing a negative college evaluation about the son of school board President Marne Foster.
In a claim dated Nov. 28, Kim Abagat, the head counselor at the School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA), says Foster abused her authority as an SDUSD trustee to benefit her son. Abagat, who describes herself as an African American educator, was suspended for nine days after writing the assessment—a punishment that she alleges was racially motivated.
Foster is the center of an independent investigation, ordered by the school board, to determine if the trustee orchestrated a $250,000 complaint filed against the district by her son’s father. Foster is also accused of holding a private fundraiser for her sons’ college tuition and of using her influence to get SCPA’s former principal Mitzi Lizarraga removed from that position.
Abagat serves as the adviser for all SCPA senior class students, but Foster specifically requested another counselor, Megan Blum, act as counselor for her son. Her request was granted.
Still, according to the claim, Foster sent an email to Abagat in October 2013, asking that she help Foster’s son with his college application process, known as the Common Application. For part of the application, Abagat had to write an assessment of Foster’s son’s performance, which she completed after “consulting with other SCPA employees and administrators,” the complaint states.
Foster’s son waived his right to see the application – a common move so that counselors may honestly and confidentially evaluate students. But three months later, the claim says Foster obtained a copy of the evaluation from Blum.
“Because Foster was upset at the contents of her son’s application, Blum completed a replacement common application for Foster’s son, which was fraudulent and contained multiple misrepresentations regarding Foster’s son’s academic achievement and disciplinary history,” the claim says. Abagat says the new, more positive evaluation was done to please Foster.
In response to this story, SDUSD officials said they cannot comment on pending litigation. NBC 7 has reached out to Foster but has not heard back.
SDUSD Cindy Marten addressed the assessment issue in a statement released in September. She said she received a call from a very angry Foster in December 2013, who started to explain that she was unhappy with her son's evaluation. Marten asked if she was calling as a parent or trustee, and when Foster replied, “as a parent,” Marten told her she must bring the issue up with the school’s principal or the district’s head of counseling and guidance.
After her complaints, the SCPA contracted an independent investigator to look into Foster’s allegations that Abagat should not have prepared an “inaccurate” and “harmful” evaluation of her son.
In his report, the investigator wrote that Abagat completed the report “in a manner not meeting professional school counseling standards” by not gathering enough information about Foster’s son from others.
Abagat was then suspended for nine days without pay. Abagat’s claim calls the report a “sham” and says “the outcome of the investigation was a forgone conclusion and conducted only to give the false public perception that Foster had not abused her authority as SDUSD trustee for the benefit of her son.”
Marten previously told NBC 7 that Foster had every right as a parent to try to resolve issues with her son’s education and that administration changes at SCPA had nothing to do with Foster. In September, Marten released private, personnel documents to show there were concerns about SCPA’s leadership before Foster became involved, she said.
Abagat’s claim, filed by her attorney Dan Gilleon, seeks more than $10,000 in damages. The district has 45 days to respond. If it does not, Abagat can file a lawsuit.