No criminal charges for Arroyo Grande teacher

May 10, 2023


The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office is not filing criminal charges against an Arroyo Grande middle school teacher who was accused of assaulting a 13-year-old student last month.

Sarah Watts, a 42-year-old teacher at Mesa Middle School, allegedly pulled a hairbrush out of the teen’s hand leaving visible injuries. Later in the day, Watts allegedly dropped or threw schoolwork towards the same student resulting in a paper cut to the student’s temple.

Multiple sheriff deputies, eight according to the log, arrived at the school on April 25 to arrest the teacher, causing outrage in the community. The teen’s father is a SLO County Sheriff deputy.

On April 27, deputies asked prosecutors to charge Watts with child abuse causing injury. However, after reviewing applicable law, investigative reports, photographs, and body worn camera footage, the District Attorney’s Office determined there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges.

Investigators determined that Watts took a hairbrush from the teen after she refused to comply to repeated demands to stop brushing her hair, allegedly leaving scratches on two of the teen’s fingers.

Public school teachers are required by law to hold students to a strict account for their conduct. The law also prohibits prosecution of a teacher who exercises the degree of physical control over a student that a parent is entitled to use.

“Every teacher in the public schools shall hold students to a strict account for their conduct on the way to and from school, on the playgrounds, or during recess,” according to California Election Code 44807. “A teacher, vice principal, principal, or any other certificated employee of a school district, shall not be subject to criminal prosecution or criminal penalties for the exercise, during the performance of his duties, of the same degree of physical control over a student that a parent would be legally privileged to exercise but which in no event shall exceed the amount of physical control reasonably necessary to maintain order, protect property, or protect the health and safety of students, or to maintain proper and appropriate conditions conducive to learning.”

District Attorney’s Office staff determined that several students in the classroom were unruly and that the teen’s brushing of her hair was disrupting Watts’ ability to teach the class.

The injuries alleged to have occurred during the hairbrush incident were minimal and consistent with an accidental scratching as described by Watts, according the the District Attorney’s Office. None of the four students interviewed by deputies “described seeing the incident.”

In addition, investigators determined Watts did not intend for the paperwork to hit the student when it was either dropped or thrown.  The student said she did not believe Watts intended to injure her.

“Other students present in the classroom corroborated this description,” according to the District Attorney’s Office. “Further, the minimal scratch observed in the photos of the student appeared to be superficial.”

Also, the teen’s father said he thought the scratch near her temple was from a separate incident occurring the day before and that the scratches on the student’s two fingers appeared to be “old.”

“Given the totality of the evidence and applicable law, the charge of child abuse causing injury in both the hairbrush incident and paperwork incident cannot be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and the request to file criminal charges has been declined,” according to the District Attorney’s Office.

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Yes, the charges were absurd from the get-go but thanks to our litigious society, few are willing to downplay something like this only to face blame later on.

The problem started when the teacher made physical contact with the pupil. There is just never any reason to ever do this. If the girl would not comply, then the teacher can call for a campus supervisor to escort her from the class to the administrator in charge of discipline. This was an unforced error on the part of the teacher.

So will we ever find out which official requested the 8 deputy detail to embarrass and intimidate the teacher and which official approved the request? It should be public knowledge.

What makes you think anyone requested 8 deputies? With the present atmosphere, any call to a school results in a “all hands on deck” response and idle deputies also like getting in on any “action”.

Do you think all LE responses should have every element of the response made public?