More than two decades after Redlands Unified School District mishandled the first of a succession of complaints about teachers who abuse their students, officials say the district has moved beyond its scandalous past with the help of sweeping reforms adopted in 2018.
Since that time, police have been called to investigate 16 reports of “inappropriate/unprofessional behavior” between teachers and students, but none have been reported as sexual assault, and district spokeswoman Kristen Stevens has found all allegations to be unfounded. .
The district’s new safety plan, ACT Now (Actions to Create Trust), which includes extensive teacher training, stricter reporting policies and awareness campaigns, is largely credited with ending teacher sexual abuse.
“The effectiveness of the ACT is now evidenced by the fact that we have no new or recent cases of sexual misconduct or failure to report mandatory,” district spokesperson Tom Delap said in an email.
However, DeLapp said the district fired an employee in 2019 for violating the district’s adult-to-student boundary policy. He did not clarify the circumstances and did not specify the employee.
Attorney Morgan Stewart, whose firm, Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, has represented most of the victims and alleged victims in the sexual assault lawsuits filed against the county since 2013, remains skeptical.
“It appears that a lot of the cases are[unfounded],” Stewart said. “Sixteen cases is a lot for an area of its size.”
Redlands Unified has 26 schools in an area spanning 42 square miles in Redlands and the adjacent Minton Non-Institutional Community.
“If you see something, report it”
A veteran teacher at Redlands Unified, who asked not to be identified, said teachers are now required to watch six additional training videos at the start of the school year on sexual assault and harassment, grooming behavior and teacher/student boundaries. However, she said it all boils down to common sense.
“If I see something, report it. If I see adults stalking children inappropriately, I will report it. If my manager tells me to keep it quiet, I won’t,” the teacher, who has worked in the district for 23 years, said. District officials are now encouraging faculty and staff to take the lead in reporting any reasonably suspicious conduct involving sexual misconduct between teacher and student to the appropriate authorities—the police and child protection services.
“Your job as a commissioned reporter is not to tell your boss; as a commissioned reporter, you are supposed to allow someone else to do the investigation—the CPS or the police.” Our official said point blank, ‘If you hear it, if you see it, report it.’ “
The district has paid $41.3 million in the past five years to settle sexual assault claims brought by former students who alleged they were sexually assaulted and abused by teachers from 1999 through 2016. The district’s insurance company paid the lion’s share — $39.6 million — while DeLapp said the district paid 1.6 million. dollars from the unrestricted reserve of its general fund.
“The money paid from the district’s general fund did not affect any of the district’s educational programs, materials and resources,” he said.
Most recently, in September the district agreed to pay $11 million to victims of former Clement Middle School teacher Sean Ramiro Lopez to settle a lawsuit. Lopez, who is serving a 74-year prison sentence for molestation of three students from 1999 to 2001, taught eighth grade English in Clement from September 1999 until his arrest on February 21, 2002.
The district also recently agreed to pay $100,000 to settle a sexual assault case stemming from a 2010 allegation involving a former teacher. Stevens said the region’s share of that amount was $33,000, while the combined forces authority representing the region paid the rest.
A year-long investigation by the Southern California News Group revealed that, for more than a decade, the district had covered up allegations of sexual abuse of students and at times ordered teachers and other staff not to cooperate with police during criminal investigations, allowing teachers to continue to abuse students. on the students.
“Troublesome events in the past have caused great sadness and anxiety in our school community,” Patti Holohan, chair of the Redlands Unified School Board, said in an email. “The Board of Education expresses its deepest sympathy and support to the students who have fallen victim to these heinous acts.”
She said that the events of the past created a “learning moment for RUSD leadership,” and that Superintendent Mauricio Arellano, who took over as district chief in September 2017, has strengthened policies, practices and protocols to deal with suspected professional misconduct.
“Together these send a clear and unmistakable message that sexual misconduct and breach of professional boundaries from adult to student will not be tolerated,” said Holohan, who was first elected to Redlands School Board in 2008. It enables us to identify and intervene when early care behaviors are detected. We can never guarantee anything with 100% certainty, but we know that ACT Now acts as an effective deterrent to sexual assault and harassment in our schools.”
Trouble at the top?
Stewart is not confident that the district’s reforms have stopped the problem, which he believes is rooted in the management and board of directors.
“In my opinion, the reforms are good for PR, but they have a staff problem that starts with management and the board of directors,” he said.
Stewart believes that the council blindly endorses the policies and practices of the area. At the department level, he’s primarily referring to Redlands Unified’s Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Sabine Robertson-Phillips, who, among other things, was suspected of obstructing the police investigation of teacher Laura Whitehurst by deleting files on her computer within 3 July, 2013, police raid on school district offices.
In addition, Detective Detective Natasha Crawford, one of the lead investigators on the case at the time, said in testimony that upon entering the county office she heard what she thought was paper shredding, and that suspected employees may have destroyed documents related to the investigation.
Dilab said Robertson Phillips has been cleared of any wrongdoing by both the attorney general’s office and the California Commission on Teacher Accreditation. In fact, Redlands Police never filed the obstruction of justice charges against Robertson Phillips for county prosecutors to file.
Stephen Larson, a lawyer for Robertson Phillips, said what Crawford heard was a copier, not a shredder, which was actually in another area of the building where investigators were unable to hear it.
Neither Crawford nor Dominic Povero, the other investigator on the case at the time, saw anyone shredding any documents, according to their testimony. Both admitted that they did not know if Robertson Phillips had deleted any documents from her computer, moreover, the investigators did not seize Robertson Phillips’ computer during the search.
“The bottom line is that all investigators have already seen, as their affidavit confirms, that Dr. Robertson Phillips is working on her computer,” Larson said. “They didn’t actually see her delete any document or even any part of the document. Which is not surprising, because she didn’t.”
DeLapp said all of the teachers who victimized students were fired and held accountable, many of whom — such as the former Citrus Valley High School English teacher, Whitehurst football coach, Redlands High School golf coach and math teacher Kevin Patrick Kirkland — have been charged. criminal charges against them. DeLapp said the district also prevailed in having the state strip them of any licenses and accreditations.
Whitehurst, who made national headlines when she gave birth to a child with one of her students in Citrus Valley, was sentenced in August 2013 to one year in prison and five years of probation for molestation of three students. Kirkland, who assaulted vulnerable female students and engaged in sexual acts with them in his classroom, car and elsewhere off campus, was sentenced to two years in prison for sexually assaulting four students from June 2014 through May 2016.
Stewart said he has one lawsuit pending against the county related to another alleged Whitehurst victim, and he recently filed another lawsuit against the county on behalf of another alleged victim of Lopez.
Holohan said the district can never become complacent when it comes to student safety, and that the Board of Education continues to invest district resources in proven best practices and programs that will keep students and staff safe.
“This is not a solo effort,” she said. “Safety is now inherent in everything we do.”