Fired Sonoma Academy teacher subbed at Casa Grande High School while private school stayed silent on misconduct findings
Six months after Marco Morrone was fired from Sonoma Academy for repeated inappropriate conduct with students, he re-entered the classroom as a substitute teacher at Casa Grande High School, The Press Democrat has learned.
Morrone, 51, worked for six weeks covering for an English and humanities teacher at the Petaluma high school during the district’s return to hybrid learning, from April 19 through May 28, said Matthew Harris, superintendent of Petaluma City Schools.
Neither the school district nor the Sonoma County Office of Education, which conducts background checks on substitutes, were aware of the reasons behind Morrone’s October 2020 departure from Sonoma Academy, the elite Santa Rosa college-prep school where he worked as a humanities teacher for 18 years, officials said.
No one from Sonoma Academy notified the county education office that Morrone was fired after a school investigation last year, officials said.
That investigation found he had “engaged in conduct that violated appropriate boundaries with students” over at least six years, according to Head of School Tucker Foehl. His June 9 announcement to students, parents and graduates marked the school’s first public acknowledgment of Morrone’s firing and the findings that led to it.
Lack of notice ‘troubling’
News broke of the allegations against Morrone the same day, when The Press Democrat published its first story in an ongoing investigation into staff misconduct and institutional failures to protect students at Sonoma Academy.
The revelations sent shock waves through the circle of local public school and district administrators, who said this week they were kept in the dark by Sonoma Academy.
John Laughlin, the associate superintendent of human resources at the county Office of Education, said his department takes seriously all reports of potential misconduct or criminal activity by any educator trying to get substitute work through their central database.
Among public schools, “there’s open communication,” about terminations and misconduct, Laughlin said.
That Sonoma Academy did not notify its public school counterparts of the misconduct it deemed grounds for Morrone’s termination was “troubling,” Laughlin said.
Morrone resigned as a substitute on June 9, and Petaluma City Schools began its own investigation, which “found zero reports of anything abnormal in the classroom,” while he was a teacher at Casa Grande High, Harris said.
The lapses at Sonoma Academy were confirmed in wider scope by another school-commissioned investigation and 49-page report released Nov. 29. Investigators concluded that inaction by administrators allowed Morrone’s misconduct, including inappropriate touching and grooming for sexual contact, to continue for years. It affected at least 34 students over his tenure, investigators found, including one girl who had sexual interactions with him after she graduated.
Administrators also concealed complaints about sexual abuse of three other students by two other staff members from law enforcement and the school’s own board of trustees.
The reports of abuse date to 2003 and 2004, involving an assistant girls soccer coach and a onetime filmmaking instructor. Sonoma Academy officials deemed them credible. The coach, Shannon Rake, a leading goal scorer in her years at Sonoma State University, was fired and film teacher, Adrian Belic, an Oscar-nominated documentarian, was not brought back.
But their subsequent employers were not notified of the findings until the school was underway with its latest investigation 17 years later, according to the Sonoma Academy report released last week. Rake, 42, the former soccer coach, went on to work in a job with Sports City, the indoor soccer operator for children and adult players.
Morrone still holds a valid California certificate of clearance with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, which shows he passed a background check and his fingerprints are on file with the Department of Justice. It remains unclear if the commission is aware of the accusations of misconduct he faces.
‘Exactly what I was afraid of’
Grace Erny, one of seven women who shared her story in The Press Democrat investigation in June of witnessing or directly experiencing Morrone’s misconduct while a Sonoma Academy student, said she was “really horrified” to learn he had been able to return to a classroom.