District, principal have restraining order against teacher

Los Banos High Principal Ryan Hartsoch
Los Banos High Principal Ryan Hartsoch Los Banos Enterprise

The Los Banos Unified School District and a principal at one of its high schools have been granted a restraining order against a teacher alleged to have engaged in a yearlong pattern of harassment and stalking-type behavior.

Court documents obtained by the Enterprise state that on July 25, Merced Superior Court Judge Donald Proietti issued a restraining order against Los Banos High School English teacher Mark Duffy, 58, directing him to stay away from the high school’s principal, Ryan Hartsoch, his wife, 5-year-old daughter and 1- and 2-year-old sons.

The order followed a temporary restraining order granted earlier in July.

Duffy’s actions reportedly started after Hartsoch issued letters of reprimand to him on April 22 and June 6, 2013. Duffy went out on medical leave in September 2013. He was scheduled to go back to teaching in August.

The Enterprise’s attempts to reach Duffy were unsuccessful. His mother, Carole Duffy, who he is believed to be living with, is a school board trustee.

Superintendent Steve Tietjen said Duffy is on paid leave pending an investigation into the allegations connected to the restraining order.

Duffy reportedly stood outside of Hartsoch’s home and made an obscene gesture with his middle finger and/or followed Hartsoch from his home or nearby to Los Banos High on 21 occasions from June 2013 to June 2014, according to Hartsoch’s written declaration requesting the restraining order.

In one of the incidents, Hartsoch states, “On Oct. 22, 2013 at approximately 7 a.m. I was driving to work and I saw respondent (Duffy) standing on the corner of Birch Avenue and Persimmon Way, approximately 200 feet from my home. As I passed by the respondent gestured with the middle finger.

“...My wife and children sometimes come outside to wave goodbye to me and have also seen respondent waiting for me in the morning on the corner of Birch Avenue and Persimmon Way on more than one occasion.”

The same thing occur three days later at Mulberry Way and Poplar Avenue, according to Hartsoch’s statement.

On Feb. 26, Hartsoch stated he was outside his residence driving to work when Duffy walked slowly by his home while his wife and children were inside.

Other incidents include Duffy following Hartsoch from Center and Madison avenues to the high school, illuminating his face with a flashlight and staring at Hartsoch while pumping his fist and flipping off Hartsoch.

Tietjen said Duffy followed him home this past summer. He declined to elaborate.

“It’s not about me,” Tietjen said. “I would like to make sure all our staff members are safe, as superintendent it is my responsibility.”

A police report involving Duffy was filed in Los Banos on Aug. 12, three weeks after the restraining order was issued. The Los Banos Police Department has not released the report, but Cmdr. Jason Hedden said it involves similar behavior to what Duffy’s been accused of in the past. Tietjen said he did not file the report.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Hartsoch declined to say whether he has experienced harassment from Duffy since the restraining order was in place. He also would not say whether he was fearful Duffy would harass him if he was to return to work.

“I think the restraining order says it all,” Hartsoch said.

Carole Duffy said she is aware of the issues between her son and the school district.

“He went to court on that and they tried to call it workplace violence. The judge rejected that, but he kept the restraining order in place,” Carole Duffy said.

When asked if the problems between Hartsoch and her son put her in a difficult position as a school board member, Carole Duffy responded, “Not really, you don’t know the whole story.”

Carole Duffy then said she could not tell “the whole story” because she was advised against it “because of litigation.”

Tietjen said there is no set timetable for the end of the investigation into Duffy’s behavior.