Investigation Confirms Decades of Sexual Misconduct Allegations at Presentation High
By michael bott and sergio quintana • published july 9, 2020 • updated on july 10, 2020 at 5:29 pm.
Nearly three years after an explosive op-ed in the Washington Post during the height of the “Me Too” movement snowballed into an avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations at San Jose’s Presentation High School, a prestigious all-girls Catholic school, a months-long independent investigation “sustained allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse” against six former staffers and found school officials at times failed to report allegations of abuse to authorities and inappropriately retained teachers accused of misconduct.
The report found the abuse occurred over a span of decades, from the early 1980's through 2013, although it did not delve into a 2004 allegation from a former student who said she was sexually abused by her theater teacher because the claim was at the center of a lawsuit that has since been settled. That teacher was later forced to register as a sex offender when we was caught by police at another school with child pornography on his computer.
“Some of the conduct was reported to former Principals Marian Stuckey or Mary Miller or other Staff at the time, but no action – or ineffective action – was taken,” the investigation conducted by Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux concluded. “In several instances, there was a concerning lack of curiosity about information which was shared, resulting in a failure to adequately investigate or act timely on information which may have led to more immediate and effective responses.”
Former students who have come forward over the past three years with personal stories of abuse, many of which were covered by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit since 2017, say they feel vindicated by the report’s findings.
“You feel a combination of re-living some of the trauma, but also some amazing relief that your story is being heard and that people know the truth,” said former student Kathryn Leehane, who made the first public accusation against the school in her 2017 Washington Post op-ed.
Leehane and several other accusers have spearheaded an effort since then to hold abusers at the school accountable, remove leaders who they say covered up allegations of sexual misconduct for decades, and improve the way the school handled misconduct allegations moving forward. Leehane created the Make Pres Safe website to serve as a clearinghouse for accusations of sexual abuse or misconduct at the school.
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In a public letter released alongside Thursday’s investigation, Presentation High School President Holly Elkins said the school has taken significant action in response to the findings and forwarded a copy of the report to the San Jose Police Department, which opened an investigation in 2018 into claims school officials violated state mandated reporter laws, but to the dismay of accusers, closed the case more than a year later without making any arrests.
Elkins said Presentation has removed the names of former principals Mary Miller and Marian Stuckey, who presided at the school’s helm for more than forty years combined, from all public spaces at the school. The report found both leaders failed to respond appropriately on multiple occasions when current or former students reported abuse, and concluded they took a defensive approach when those allegations later became public.
Among the other actions taken by school officials in response to the investigation were issuing another apology to victims, which Miller and Stuckey never publicly did, and enacting a new records retention policy that “meets or exceeds best practices.”
“To the survivors of abuse, we deeply and sincerely apologize,” the letter stated. “The stark truth is that our school did not live up to its commitment to protect you. We added further harm when we responded defensively when reports of past abuse began to surface in 2017. We understand that words cannot measure our regret or erase the harm that you endured.”
Confirmed Sexual Misconduct
The law firm’s probe, which began in September of last year, included interviews with 75 individuals, “including administrators, faculty, staff, former students, Board Members, and other members of the Pres Community,” as well as a review of hundreds of pages of documents that were provided by the school and witnesses, according to the report.
“None of the individuals the investigators named in the report are currently employed at Presentation,” the school’s letter stated. “Investigators received sufficient information to form a good faith belief that sexual misconduct or abuse occurred by five former faculty members and one former coach for conduct that took place from the early 1990’s to 2013.
Among those six names were five previously known to NBC Bay Area and one new name. NBC Bay Area has reported on four of them but was unable to corroborate accusations against the fifth.
NBC Bay area was unable to reach any of the teachers named in the report late Thursday, but investigators said none cooperated with the probe.
The first among the six former staffers named in the report is former Spanish and French teacher John Fernandez, who taught at the school between 1982 and 2004, and died of cancer in 2015.
Investigators say they learned of sexual misconduct allegations involving Fernandez and 14 separate Presentation High School students, including Kathryn Leehane, who said Ferandez showed her a pornographic photo and touched her inappropriately while alone with her in his classroom in the early 1990’s.
A classmate of Leehane’s, who has not publicly discussed her allegations, also reported being sexually assaulted by Fernandez during a school trip that was chaperoned by the teacher in 1990.
The report concluded Fernandez engaged in “inappropriate and unwanted sexual conduct” and found that several staff members, including Miller and Stuckey, were aware of some of Fernandez’s conduct but never reported it to authorities or acted against the teacher.
“There is no indication that Pres reported any of Fernandez’s conduct to CPS or law enforcement,” the report stated.
In fact, after school leaders were aware of Fernandez’s alleged conduct, he was awarded Teacher of the Year in the mid-1990’s and continued teaching at the school until 2004.
Read more about John Fernandez here.
Orozco was a name previously mentioned by a source to NBC Bay Area, but this news organization was unable to confirm the allegations and never named the teacher in any reporting.
However, investigators concluded the teacher had inappropriate relationships with at least three students between 1980 and 1981 and engaged in sexual misconduct with at least one of them. The report found that rumors concerning Orozco swirled around the school, but there was no evidence school officials knew about the misconduct.
“One student reported concerns about Orozco to Miller in the 1990’s but did not specifically identify Orozco or the nature of the concerns,” the report stated.
Investigators found that former English and Journalism teacher Jeff House, who taught at the school between 1999 and 2004, had a sexual relationship with a student shortly after she graduated from Presentation.
“At a minimum, House likely engaged in grooming or other boundary-crossing conduct,” the reported stated, noting the proximity in time between the student’s graduation and the sexual encounter.
Investigators found that Mary Miller found out about the relationship, but did not conduct any investigation or report the conduct.
The former student who reported the relationship spoke to NBC Bay Area back in 2017. You can read more about that here.
Kris White was a religion teacher at Presentation between 2001 and 2003. In 2002, the investigation found White called a student into his office and “made romantic overtures towards her.”
He also gave the student a note, reviewed by investigators, telling the student “I’m obsessed with you,” “You’re the only reason I get up and go to work in the morning,” and, “I got out on dates but I don’t enjoy them because all I do is think about you.”
Investigators found Miller failed to take appropriate action after learning of White’s conduct.
“While Miller promptly responded to the student’s reported concerns by meeting with the student, her parents, and White, Miller failed to appropriately address the conduct, or take steps to protect the student,” the reported stated. “Rather, Miller put undue pressure on the student by revealing information about White’s personal situation and requesting he be able to continue his employment.”
Miller never reported the conduct to CPS or law enforcement, the report stated.
NBC Bay Area reported on this incident here.
The allegations against Roe are among the most recent and her accuser’s family remains outraged she was never arrested or prosecuted.
Roe was the school’s Varsity Water Polo Coach between 2011 and 2013 and was 24-years-old when she was accused of sexually assaulting then 14-year-old water polo player Grace Leonis, who spoke to NBC Bay Area in 2018.
Leonis said the coach digitally penetrated her in the back of a car after a water polo meet.
NBC Bay Area covered that story extensively here.
Investigators found there was enough evidence to sustain sexual misconduct allegations against Roe.
“Roe acknowledged to the police she engaged in sexual misconduct towards [Leonis], including sending [Leonis] a picture of her vibrator; possibly telling [Leonis] she loved her, and, physically touching [Leonis] on the knee,” the reported stated.
Dave Garbo was the only former teacher named in the report that was completely new to NBC Bay Area.
The former English teacher, who taught at the school as recently as 2017, was accused of grooming a student while she was at Presentation and having a sexual encounter with the student soon after she graduated.
According to investigators, the former student said in a written statement provided to Miller in late 2017, after Leehane’s op-ed, that Garbo had sexually assaulted her in a hotel room when she was 19-years-old and “too drunk” to consent. Garbo was 38 at the time, according to the report.
In this instance, investigators found Miller responded promptly and reported the incident to police within a week of receiving the notice. By that point, however, Miller’s past conduct was already under scrutiny.
The report also detailed allegations against six other staffers who are not identified by name because investigators concluded their behavior did not meet the definition of sexual misconduct or there was less supporting evidence to back up the claims.
While investigators found plenty to be troubled by, the report also detailed significant steps Presentation High School has taken over the past two years to address the sexual misconduct allegations, which are listed in full here:
• In the fall of 2018, Pres created the Office of Prevention of Student Bullying, Harassment & Abuse (Office), which is modeled after Title IX regulations and best practices. Importantly, its Director delivers reports to the Board of Directors. The Office is charged with facilitating efforts to prevent student bullying, harassment, and abuse; responding to current students, parents, faculty, and staff who report concerns related to student bullying, harassment, and abuse; conducting outreach to students, teachers, staff, and parents to prevent student bullying, harassment, and abuse; and, training students, faculty, and staff on the prevention of student bullying, harassment, and abuse, including mandatory reporting obligations.
• Also in the fall of 2018, Pres launched a new app-based reporting program, which allows students to easily report any concerns. According to the STOPit website, “STOPit provides simple, fast, and powerful anonymous reporting via the STOPit Mobile App, Web & Hotline. STOPit Messenger enables anonymous, 2-way dialogue between administrators and reporters in real-time—course correcting issues before they turn into emergencies.”
• Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, Pres implemented more frequent and robust mandatory reporting training for all staff, which is annual and on-going. The curriculum includes training on the warning signs of abuse. Pres also added two additional student safety trainings in the 2018-2019 school year. In 2019, Pres conducted staff training regarding child abuse, which covered the different types of child abuse and mandated reporting requirements. On May 13, 2019, Pres also conducted Mandated Reporter and Professional Boundaries/Conduct Training.
• Pres implemented new policies and procedures around bullying, harassment, and abuse, and boundaries related to faculty- and staff-student relationships. Pres’ website includes the “Faculty Policies Relating to Students,” which include sections on “Professional Responsibilities,” “Boundaries (Faculty/Staff-Student Relationships), and “Overnight Chaperone Responsibilities.” Some key features of these new policies and procedures include an emphasis on the need to maintain professional boundaries with any current students, former students under the age of 21, and applicants for admission. As examples, the new policies expressly prohibit communicating with students on any issues other than those serving an educational purpose; socializing with students outside of school or outside of a school activity without a parent or guardian present; and, sharing or inquiring about “overly personal details of a student’s private relationships.”
• Pres has updated the school’s Student Wellness Program to include student safety, focusing on healthy relationships, dating and how to spot abuse. Pres’ Student Wellness Program webpage states, “Pres is proud to partner with One Love Foundation to bring their relationship abuse curriculum to our students and parents.” One Love Foundation “educates young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships, empowering them to identify and avoid abuse and learn how to love better.”
• Pres has made significant changes to its governance, including hiring a new President and making changes to the Board to address perceptions of conflicts of interest or any perception of influence which may flow from a personal relationship. Many faculty members, staff members, and alum expressed support of Pres’ new leadership. Elkins has had one-on-one meetings with alumna, Board Members, employees, and others in the community to listen to community concerns and suggestions. Elkins expressed her deep commitment to addressing, correcting and preventing sexual harassment.
• Pres hired General Counsel to provide legal advice and guidance. Previously, Pres did not have a formal general counsel to advise it on personnel and compliance issues, including how to respond to complaints regarding sexual misconduct.
• Pres became a member of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), a nonprofit organization that provides research and trend analysis, leadership and governance guidance, and professional development opportunities for school and Board leaders.
• In September 2019, Pres initiated this investigation, and charged “a thorough and impartial investigation into any reports of sexual abuse or misconduct by any Pres employee against any student throughout the history of the school.”
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San Jose's Presentation High Releases Sex Abuse Report, Apologizes For Investigator Findings
July 9, 2020 / 11:02 PM / CBS San Francisco
SAN JOSE (KPIX) -- Officials at a Catholic high school in San Jose on Thursday released a report investigating past sex abuse claims at the school, apologizing to past victims as they shared the results of the investigation "with heavy hearts."
Prestigious all-girl Presentation High School in San Jose has been embroiled in the allegations of abuse by teachers for several years, with some former students claiming incidents of abuse dating back as far as the 1980s.
- Read the full Presentation High Sexual Misconduct Report
The allegations were further bolstered in 2017 when Presentation High graduate Kathryn Leehane wrote a Washington Post op-ed essay accusing a former Spanish teacher at the school of sexually assaulting her and a classmate in separate incidents when they were students in 1990.
Presentation High President Holly Elkins and the school's Board of Directors launched this recently completed independent investigation last fall .
In a letter addressed to alumni, parents, students and friends of the school, issued in conjunction with the report and signed by Elkins and Board of Directors Chair Sister Pam Chiesa, school officials said, "it is with heavy hearts that we are writing to you today to share the results of the investigation."
The letter said that investigators "received sufficient information to form a good faith belief that sexual misconduct or abuse" involving five former members of the school's faculty as well as one former coach. The conduct in question took place between the early 1980s to 2013.
The former Presentation High faculty members and coach were listed as:
- John Fernandez (deceased), Foreign Language teacher and coach (1982-2004)
- Peggy Orozco, English teacher (1979-1983)
- Jeff House, English and Journalism teacher (1999-2004)
- Kris White, Religion Teacher and Community Involvement Coordinator (2001-2003)
- Jenna Roe, Assistant Varsity Water Polo Coach (2011-2013)
- Dave Garbo, English teacher (2006-2017)
"Misconduct reported encompassed a wide variety of inappropriate acts, including sexual abuse, grooming, touching, kissing, groping, inappropriate fraternization, and other boundary-crossing interactions with students," the letter stated.
Officials also said the report showed instances where school officials -- specifically former Heads of School Mary Miller and Marian Stuckey -- were notified of possible sexual misconduct and took little or no action. The letter also included a lengthy apology to former students impacted by the abuse.
"To the survivors of abuse, we deeply and sincerely apologize. The stark truth is that our school did not live up to its commitment to protect you. We added further harm when we responded defensively when reports of past abuse began to surface in 2017," the letter accompanying the release of the report read.
The apology by school officials continued: "We understand that words cannot measure our regret or erase the harm that you endured. You were hurt, and we can only hope to make amends by caring for you now and doing everything within our power to ensure that students now and in the future will be cared for and safe."
School officials said that they have shared the report appropriate law enforcement, including the San Jose Police Department in addition to the San Jose Diocese and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the survivors of abuse as well as any known current employers of the individuals who conducted sexual abuse or misconduct.
Esther Peralez-Dieckmann who is the executive director for Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence in San Jose, said her non-profit organization has helped the school try to change its culture. She said they've also received funding from a campus group that serves the community.
"While this was a very painful part of their history, the school has actually done a lot of good work," Peralez-Dieckmann said. "We've been asked to come to campus to talk to young women, that's what we want to do, we want to create an environment where young women feel comfortable."
The school has also enacted a new records retention policy, removed any public honor or recognition of the faculty members involved in the abuse as well as the two named former Heads of School.
"I think they've started the journey in terms of looking at their own systems, you know, how do we support young women who make these allegations," Peralez-Dieckmann said.
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Report details years of alleged sex abuse at Presentation High, president apologizes
Almost three years after the first reports of past sexual abuse, the leadership of a Catholic girls school in San Jose admit that for years staff didn't protect students.
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Almost three years after the first reports of past sexual abuse, the leadership of a Catholic girls school in San Jose admit that for years staff didn't protect students.
Presentation High School today released the results of a months-long investigation.
RELATED: More sexual misconduct claims at San Jose's Presentation High School
"The stark truth is that our school did not live up to its commitment to protect you. We added further harm when we responded defensively when reports of past abuse began to surface in 2017."
That's the main message of a letter Thursday from Presentation High School's president and board of directors chair.
Since September of last year, an investigative firm has been looking into allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct by former Presentation staff members.
RELATED: Accusations fly over SJ high school's handling of sexual abuse allegations
The letter says investigators have "good faith belief" that six former staff members engaged in inappropriate behavior with students.
The allegations span from the 1980s to 2013.
They include acts ranging from "grooming" students to groping.
RELATED: 2 former students allege sexual abuse at Presentation High School in San Jose
None of the staff members still work at Presentation.
Investigators also found instances in which two former principals, Mary Miller and Marian Stuckey, received reports of possible sexual misconduct but took ineffective or no action.
The school has implemented several reforms, and have stripped the school of any honors to the staff involved.
RELATED: Presentation High takes steps to protect students from sexual misconduct
None of the accused individuals has been charged.
The school has shared the report with the San Jose Police Department and the San Jose Diocese.
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Education | Teachers named in San Jose Catholic school sex…
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Education | instant analysis: brock purdy, 49ers defense dominate steelers in season opener, education | teachers named in presentation high sex investigation kept working as bay area educators for years, a damning report found administrators failed to take action in many cases.
At least three former faculty members named this week in a scathing report on sexual misconduct and abuse at San Jose’s Presentation High School appeared to still be working as educators in the Bay Area, raising questions about whether the prestigious Catholic girls school did anything to notify potential future employers about allegations against them.
A Bay Area News Group review of school websites, public records and interviews revealed former teacher Dave Garbo, who allegedly had a non-consensual sexual encounter with a student shortly after she graduated, worked until recently as an English teacher at Jefferson High School in Daly City.
Another former teacher, Jeff House, accused of grooming two students for relationships and allegedly sexually assaulting one of them at his home when she was a college freshman, works as a private tutor and consultant in San Jose. And former teacher Kris White, who allegedly told a student he loved her, is currently listed as head of school at Fusion Academy’s Palo Alto campus. None of the three men responded to multiple requests for comment.
The allegations are outlined in a 37-page report released Thursday by the school after it hired a Sacramento law firm to investigate misconduct charges that spanned several decades and first came to light during the #MeToo movement. The report found Presentation’s former top administrators Mary Miller and Marian Stuckey were aware of the conduct but failed in most cases to take appropriate action. On Thursday, the school’s entire board of directors announced it was stepping aside in light of the scandal.
In total, the school’s investigation identified five former teachers and one former coach. Allegations against various staff members ranged from “grooming” students for future relationships to sexual interactions with underage girls.
The law firm’s investigators said they found the allegations against the staff members to be substantiated but nothing has been proven in criminal or civil court.
In many cases, the report found, Miller and Stuckey were aware of the allegations , including against White and House. But crucially, they often did not report the behavior to law enforcement, allowing teachers to move to new jobs where they interacted with children.
“If there is even a suspicion of abuse, [educators] are legally mandated to report that activity to the police or to child protective services,” said San Jose attorney Robert Allard, who advised many of the students and alumni who came forward in recent years with stories of abuse. “This report is an effective admission that both Mary Miller and Marion Stuckey failed in those responsibilities, and they should be held liable for abuse that happened not only at Presentation, but if a teacher who they failed to report goes on to abuse elsewhere, they should be liable for it as well.”
Efforts to reach Miller and Stuckey were unsuccessful.
A spokesperson for Presentation told the Bay Area News Group on Friday that the school recently gave the completed report to the current employers of the former staff members named in the investigation, but that she had “no information” on whether the school had made previous attempts to inform the former staff members’ new employers.
Asked how the former staff members were allowed to continue working with children, she did not respond.
White, who taught religion at Presentation from 2001 to 2003, was accused of telling a student he was in love with her and giving her a note saying he was “obsessed” with her, the report said. After learning of the allegations, then-principal Miller placed White on administrative leave, but reinstated him after three months and allowed him to finish the school year.
At the end of the year, she told him that he would not be returning to Presentation. He went on to teach at other Catholic high schools in the Bay Area — including Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School in Alameda and De La Salle High School in Concord — before becoming head of school at Fusion Academy, which bills itself as a non-traditional school focused on individual students.
Fusion placed White on administrative leave pending further investigation “as soon as we were made aware of the claims against him,” according to Fusion Academy president Jeff Poole.
“While we have no reason to believe any misconduct took place during his tenure at Fusion Academy, the safety and well-being of our students is and will always be our first priority, and we take this report very seriously,” Poole said.
Garbo worked as an English teacher at Presentation from 2006 to 2017. The report said Garbo was accused of having developed an “inappropriate” relationship with a student while she was at Presentation and later engaging in a nonconsensual sexual encounter with her in 2012.
More than a year after she graduated, the student alleged, Garbo bought her drinks, took her to his hotel and engaged in sexual acts with her while she was “too drunk” to consent. Garbo was 38 at the time and the girl was 19. He claimed the encounter was consensual, according to the law firm’s investigation.
In this case, the law firm found, Presentation “responded promptly and appropriately” by notifying police. In November 2017, shortly after learning of the allegation, the school reported the allegation to San Jose Police, filed a Suspected Child Abuse Report and placed Garbo on paid leave. Garbo was never charged with a crime, and San Jose police on Friday evening were not available to explain what happened to the investigation.
The next year, Garbo was hired by Jefferson High School in Daly City, where he also taught English. A school district spokesperson wouldn’t say whether they knew anything about the allegations against Garbo when he was hired. Garbo’s listing was visible in Jefferson High School’s staff directory on Friday morning but disappeared in the afternoon after several Bay Area News Group inquiries.
The spokesperson confirmed that Garbo is no longer employed by the district but declined to comment on the reasons for his departure.
House, an English and journalism professor at Presentation between 1999 and 2004, allegedly sexually assaulted a former student when she saw him during a break from her freshman year in college, the report said. In an email sent to a friend at the time, she “described going to House’s home for dinner, being given alcohol and ‘pot brownies’ and then waking up naked on House’s couch.”
According to the law firm’s investigation, Miller acknowledged she was aware of the student’s experience with House. Miller did not investigate because the student was over 18 at the time and “begged” Miller not to tell anyone. House left Presentation for unrelated reasons, Miller told the law firm’s investigators.
House now teaches writing and conducts seminars on English instruction independently and through the College Board and other California organizations.
The report also contained misconduct allegations against John Fernandez, who taught Spanish and French between 1982 and 2004 and died in 2015; Peggy Orozco, who was a Spanish teacher and substitute English teacher from 1979-1983; and Jenna Roe, who coached water polo between 2011 and 2013.
The San Jose Police Department investigated allegations that Roe had inappropriately touched a student in 2013, but no charges were filed.
The report also lists allegations against six other staff members, who were not named because the law firm said there wasn’t enough evidence or the actions did not meet the definition of sexual misconduct.
Another former Presentation teacher, Jefferey Hicks, was not listed in the report but was accused in a widely publicized 2018 lawsuit of having molested a 15-year-old Presentation student in 2004. After leaving Presentation, Hicks ended up at Stanbridge Academy, a private school for students with special needs in San Mateo County. In 2014, Hicks was convicted of possessing child pornography and exchanging inappropriate messages with a 14-year-old Stanbridge student.
“Having an unbiased, independent organization validate everything we’re saying feels amazing and overwhelming,” said former student Kate Leehane, whose story about the abuse led to the reckoning at the school. “I’m incredibly proud of … the school for doing the right thing and having such a compassionate response, demonstrating accountability and transparency. The last three years have been very very hard, and it’s wonderful to be validated in this way.”
Staff Writer Emily DeRuy contributed to this report.
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Presentation High scandal: First lawsuit…
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Scandal at presentation high: first lawsuit alleges girls school ignored sex abuse of theater student, friday filing claims theater director molested female student over two years, including during a trip to new york city, and was rebuffed when she tried to report it.
Photo Jacqueline Ramseyer/Bay Area News Group/May 31, 2017 Presentation High School in San Jose has filed to rezone their land from single-family residence to public/quasi-public.
Attorney Ken Turek speaks on Aug. 10, 2018, in San Jose, during a press conference about the lawsuit he filed on behalf of a former Presentation High School student claiming that the school and Principal Mary Miller did not effectively respond to the student’s reports that she was sexually abused by a former theater director. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group)
SAN JOSE — A former Presentation High School student has filed the first lawsuit against the renowned Catholic girls school in continued fallout from a scandal where a score of other past students alleged that administrators chronically ignored their sexual harassment and abuse complaints against faculty and staff.
The lawsuit, filed Friday on the victim’s behalf by San Diego-based attorney Ken Turek, names as defendants the school, current principal Mary Miller and Jefferey Hicks, who once served as the school’s theater director.
The lawsuit claims Hicks molested a 15-year-old sophomore on campus in 2003 and then again in 2004 during a theater trip to New York City, and had been grooming her for a sexual relationship. Parents have accused Presentation administrators of ignoring their complaints about Hicks, who years later while working at a private school in San Mateo was convicted of keeping child pornography at work and exchanging inappropriate messages with a 14-year-old student.
“When the student herself tried to put an end to the molestation, Hicks told her he would kill himself or have her arrested, and these types of threats and grooming behavior continued,” Turek said during a Friday news conference in San Jose. “Miller’s actions in not following the mandatory reporting laws allowed Hicks to have a clean teaching record when he left employment at Presentation.”
Presentation has been battling allegations since last fall of mishandling student complaints of sexual harassment and inappropriate advances by teachers, coaches and other staff. Since former student Kathryn Leehane wrote in the Washington Post about her own experience at the San Jose Catholic school in the 1990s, a number of other former students have come forward with their own accounts, which they have detailed on a website .
Turek said his client — this news organization does not identify victims of sexual assault unless they come forward publicly — has since become a successful therapist in New York.
“She is very accomplished outside, but you don’t see the inside struggles and challenges that she goes through every day because of what happened to her at Presentation,” he said. “We have filed this suit in large part to get justice for her.”
Sam Singer, a public relations consultant hired by Presentation, issued a statement in response to the lawsuit.
“The school has not been served nor seen the lawsuit, so we cannot comment on the specifics of the allegations. Presentation welcomes the opportunity to tell the school’s side of the story in a courtroom, rather than having to respond to misleading, and in a number of cases false, allegations posted on social media,” the statement reads.
The statement continues: “Presentation High School is no place for abuse. As educators and fierce advocates of women’s rights, Presentation takes any allegation of abuse extremely seriously. Presentation condemns any instance of sexual abuse or misconduct. Presentation is proud of its efforts to educate and protect the students who attend our high school from sexual misconduct.”
The school has said that it responded appropriately to reports of sexual harassment or abuse, and that some of the accusations from the former students are different now than what was reported to the school at the time.
The lawsuit might appear to some as curiously timed, given that it was filed on the same day of an annual alumnae reunion at the Willow Glen-area campus, and before a fundraising gala set for Saturday.
Leehane, who has become the most prominent critic of Presentation amid this scandal, lauded the plaintiff’s courage.
“She’s extremely brave given what she’s gone through,” Leehane said. “I really hope it’s the beginning of dozens of survivors getting justice finally. Hopefully the board of directors and Sisters will finally hold enablers of sex abuse and Mary Miller accountable for their crimes and decades of violating reporting laws.”
California law requires school officials to report any suspected abuse of children to either police or a county child protective services agency. The accusers have detailed online at least 11 cases in which they say they reported specific abuse to school officials who did not report it to authorities for investigation as required.
The school and its critics have met with a mediator, and Presentation has since implemented new staff training in the law requiring school officials to report child abuse and created a new Office of Prevention of Student Bullying, Harassment, and Abuse to deal with complaints.
The accusations date back more than 30 years, some by women who have publicly identified themselves, while others remain anonymous. Leehane and at least three other women identified their alleged abuser as a former teacher who has since died who remained at the school until he retired.
At least three women, one of whom fully identified herself, complained of unwanted advances by a former math teacher. Other alleged abusers included a coach and a community involvement staffer. A couple of allegations involved reported off-campus abuse by others not affiliated with the school that the women said they told a school official about, but their complaints were never forwarded to police.
“The keeping of (Miller) as an administrator after they’ve been put on notice about these allegations is a continuing ratification of the wrong acts that took place in the past,” Turek said.
Staff writer John Woolfolk contributed to this report.
Robert Salonga | Criminal Justice and Public Safety Reporter
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‘So Much Trauma’: Report Alleges Decades-Long Sexual Abuse at San Jose Catholic Girls’ School
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Updated with new information on July 20th (see end of article).
Presentation High , a Roman Catholic girls’ school in San Jose, recently released a report by a Sacramento law firm reviewing allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct over 47 years, from 1970 through 2017. The report found credible allegations against three English teachers, a Spanish teacher, a religion teacher and an assistant water polo coach — none of whom work at Presentation High today. The Mercury News reported at least three of the faculty went on to work at other Bay Area educational institutions or with students.
The high school’s Board of Directors and its new school president hired the Van Dermyden Maddux Law Firm last fall, two years after allegations of past abuse surfaced in a 2017 Washington Post perspective by a former student, Kathryn Leehane.
She remembers her Spanish teacher at Presentation High teacher touching her inappropriately in 1990.
It had taken years for me to tell my story — of a gropey teacher who showed me pornography — to the police. And the well-meaning officer inadvertently confirmed what so many us who experience sexual assault have learned: We need to look elsewhere for resolution. We are on our own.
“You know, he put his arm around me. He brought my hand up to my breast. He kissed my hand,” she told KQED. Too scared to say anything at the time, she reported the teacher to school officials after she graduated in 1991; after she says, he assaulted her best friend. Leehane says she tried repeatedly to get the school to act — for a decade during her 20s. She sent letters. She met with the former head of the school, who she says “warned me to be careful with my words so as not to face a lawsuit.” Leehane says she wrote a letter to the Diocese of San Jose, but never received an answer. She eventually filed a police report, but was told the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution had run out. The teacher remained on staff for years.
Fast forward to 2017, after allegations about Harvey Weinstein emerged, launching the #MeToo movement. Leehane says her column in The Washington Post struck a nerve.
Survivors with allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct at Presentation High, called “Pres” in the community, began stepping forward. Leehane started a web site, MakePresSafe.com as a launching pad for survivors to document attempts at accountability with the school and a place to find resources.
School administrators could not have failed to notice, either, when in late 2019 Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 218 , the California Child Victims Act. The law expanded the statute of limitations for civil suits arising out of childhood sexual assault, extending the time claims can be filed beyond three years of discovery or age 26, and allowing for recovery of up to treble damages — triple the damages — against certain defendants.
Advocates for survivors of childhood sexual abuse say it usually takes decades for people to come forward and tell their stories, if they ever do.
Leehane keeps a spreadsheet with the names of about 40 survivors on it that she knows about. She says not everyone on her list spoke with the investigators from Van Dermyden Maddux, but the firm’s investigators did find her Spanish teacher — now dead — abused at least 13 other girls. Leehane knows of one more the report missed.
“They could have prevented so much abuse. They could have prevented so much trauma, but they let him stay there for 20 years,” she said.
Investigators interviewed 75 people, including administrators, faculty, staff, former students and board members. No current students were interviewed, according to the report, “because none have raised concerns or were witnesses.”
Presentation High received the final report on June 30. The school’s spokeswoman, Cherie Britt, wrote in an email that the administration notified both the police and “current known employers of those who were named and believed to be working with children” the same week the report was released to the public, on July 9.
Allegations Ignored for Years
Teachers, doctors, therapists and clergy all have a longstanding legal obligation to alert authorities to suspected child sexual abuse. California's mandatory reporting law makes it a crime not to.
It would be up to the District Attorney and the Attorney General — who is running an ongoing statewide investigation into reporting and allegations of abuse by clergy — to prosecute former Presentation High administrators who failed to report such allegations to law enforcement, let alone parents, according to attorney Mike Reck with Jeff Anderson & Associates . The firm has sued extensively — including the Vatican itself — on behalf of those sexually abused by clergy.
“(Presentation High) didn't suddenly grow a conscience and decide it was wrong to hurt children. Those children grew up and those children became survivors and those children spoke to the media,” Reck said.
Reck draws attention to what’s not in the report: six staff members remain unnamed, for lack of evidence, say the report’s authors. He says the report was “carefully crafted such that it only trickles out the little bit of information that was required by survivors,” adding this is a “systemic problem with the Diocese of San Jose and with the Sisters of the Presentation .” They are the Order of nuns who established not just Presentation High, but multiple schools around California, including several in the Bay Area.
Reck says the allegations of abuse against the unnamed people in the report should be thoroughly investigated for public safety. “Where do they live? What communities are they being exposed to? Have those communities been warned?”
A Lawsuit is Coming
Jeff Anderson & Associates plans to file suit against Presentation High — and the Diocese of San Jose — on behalf of a client alleging abuse by a nun at the school back in the 1970s. Reck said the firm is interested in more than the one woman. Through the process of discovery, “the identities and the whereabouts and history of every alleged perpetrator will be sought,” he said.
Meanwhile, Leehane said she is satisfied with the way the new president of the school, Holly Elkins, handled the investigation. When Presentation High made the report public, Elkins and the Chair of the Board of Directors released a letter outlining its findings, along with the changes the school is making to ensure student safety moving forward. “To the survivors of abuse, we deeply and sincerely apologize. The stark truth is that our school did not live up to its commitment to protect you,” the letter said. Additionally, the entire board of the school resigned, writing “The time is right to step aside and make room for new oversight and governance."
Update 7:00 p.m. 7/17/20: KQED contacted the Diocese of San Jose before publication of this story. The first statement, provided on 7/14, commended the Sisters of the Presentation and their high school for its independent investigation. A spokesperson for the Diocese also wrote by email, " Please note that Presentation High School is an independent Catholic school and not part of our Diocesan schools. They have a Board of Trustees and Directors, as well as the religious order that make decisions and operate independently from the Diocese."
New Investigation Announced (bold added) : The Diocese of San Jose sent out a second statement at 4:26 p.m. on Friday, 7/17, saying it is " disheartened to learn of the findings presented in the investigative report... In reviewing Presentation's newly released report, the Diocese has confirmed that it previously employed two of the individuals identified therein. Marian Stuckey worked for the Diocese as its Superintendent of Catholic Schools between 1993 and 2009. In addition, Jeff House worked as a teacher at Archbishop Mitty High School, a diocesan Catholic school, between 1982 and 1999.
"The Diocese of San Jose will, therefore, be initiating an independent investigation to ensure proper accountability of any complaints, allegations, or reported incidents that may have occurred during their respective periods of employment with the Diocese."
"The Diocese encourages any victim/survivor to come forward and report any improper conduct either historically or currently at Archbishop Mitty High School or any diocesan schools by taking the following steps: First, contact their local civil authorities. Then, once a report is filed with the local civil authorities, the individuals are encouraged to contact the Diocese's Office for the Protection of Children & Vulnerable Adults at 408-983-0113. Reports to the Diocese are also accepted by a secure third-party reporting service at opcva.ethicspoint.com or call 1-844-372-1619. "
Update 7/20/20: The Diocese of San Jose sent out a correction about Marian Stuckey's title when she worked for the Diocese between 1993 and 2009. "She was hired as the Assistant Superintendent in 1993 and was promoted to Superintendent in 1999."
Presentation High School Sexual Abuse
Jeff Anderson & Associates is recognized as one of the nation’s premier law firms to represent victims of childhood sexual abuse. We are smart, tough and relentless, but the virtue that ultimately sets us apart is our compassion. We are people who feel deeply and work tirelessly in response to an unjust world. We have a reputation for being the best at what we do, and that begins and ends with our ability to support, protect and guide survivors along their journey towards justice and healing. You are not alone.
If you were sexually abused or molested by a priest, clergy member or church employee at Presentation High School or within the Diocese of San Jose , you still have rights. We want to help. Contact us confidentially now.
Presentation School Sexual Misconduct Report
Located in Willow Glen (within the Diocese of San Jose in California) Presentation High School is a private college prep school for girls owned and operated by the Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (an order of nuns within the Catholic Church). In September of 2019, following a string of child sexual abuse reports and increasing attention resulting from abuse survivors sharing their stories, the administration enlisted Van Dermyden Maddux Law Corporation (Firm) to conduct a “thorough and impartial investigation into past reports of sexual abuse and misconduct and the handling of such allegations throughout the history of the school.” According to the report:
The investigation was undertaken to address a number of allegations which emerged in the media beginning in 2017. On October 20, 2017, the Washington Post published an op-ed wherein the author shared her experience of being abused by a high school teacher in 1990 and subsequently attempting to report the conduct. While the article did not identify the high school or the teacher, both became known because the author is a former Pres student. The article was followed by other reports of misconduct which surfaced on social media and other forums in subsequent months.
The report covers 47 years of abuse allegations concerning school staff ranging from 1970 to 2017. The report identified five former faculty and one coach that allowed the investigators to “form a good-faith belief the alleged conduct occurred.” They include:
- John Fernandez: a Spanish and French teacher between 1982 and 2004
- Peggy Orozco: a Spanish teacher and substitute English teacher from approximately 1979 to 1983
- Jeff House: an English and Journalism teacher between 1999 and 2004.
- Kris White: a religion teacher and Community Involvement Coordinator from 2001 to 2003
- Dave Garbo: an English teacher from 2006 to 2017
- Jenna Roe: a Junior Varsity Assistant Water Polo Coach between 2011 and 2013
The report also identifies an additional six individuals simply referred to as “Staff Members.”
Download: Report of Independent Investigation—Claims of Sexual Misconduct (Presentation High School)
Make Pres Safe: Student Survivors Demand Accountability
Beginning in October 2017, two Presentation alumni— Kathryn Leehane and Cheryl Hodgin Marshall —began a movement to expose the abuse committed and concealed by Presentation and other institutions, demand reform in the legal system, and provide support and resources to other survivors of child sexual abuse. The movement began with an op-ed Leehane wrote for the Washington Post, When the Legal System Fails Sexual Abuse Survivors We Have to Find Our Own Closure . Her story shone a light on the abuse kept in the shadows of the halls of Presentation for decades, and her courage coming forward opened the way for dozens of other survivors and witnesses to follow suit.
It had taken years for me to tell my story—of a gropey teacher who showed me pornography—to the police. And the well-meaning officer inadvertently confirmed what so many us who experience sexual assault have learned: We need to look elsewhere for resolution. We are on our own. —Kathryn Leehane
In 2018, Leehane and Marshall joined forces as Make Pres Safe “to advocate for the dozens of survivors of childhood sexual abuse from PHS.” The organization provides a thorough timeline of events and their ongoing efforts to expose abuse and hold Presentation accountable, including responses from school administrators. They also provide information on California sexual abuse legislation AB218 (now known as the California Child Victims Act, ) and numerous survivor resources .
You can visit their website here: Make Pres Safe Official Website
‘(Presentation High) didn’t suddenly grow a conscience and decide it was wrong to hurt children. Those children grew up and those children became survivors and those children spoke to the media.’ — Attorney Mike Reck, Jeff Anderson & Associates (full article here)
San Jose’s Presentation High School faces legal action over sex abuse claims
by: Rob Fladeboe
Posted: Aug 10, 2018 / 04:07 PM PDT
Updated: Aug 10, 2018 / 04:07 PM PDT
There is a new development in a story KRON4 has been following about allegations of the alleged sexual abuse of students at Presentation High School in San Jose.
The all-girls Catholic school is facing legal action.
“Today, we have filed a lawsuit against Presentation High School on behalf of a former student,” the plaintiff’s attorney Kenneth Turek said.
Turek says the victim, whom KRON4 is not naming, was a 15-year-old sophomore back in 2003 when she was allegedly sexually abused by Jefferey Hicks, Presentation High School’s former theater director.
“This abuse, we will prove, occurred both on school ground and off schools grounds including during a theater trip to New York City,” Turek said.
The lawsuit seeks punitive damages and also alleges negligence on the part of Presentation’s former principal, Mary Miller, who is accused of knowing about the abuse but failed to take action, says the plaintiff’s attorney.
“Miller failed to follow mandatory reporting laws which allowed Hicks to stay and be alone with other unsuspecting children for the remainder of that year and an entire summer session,” Turek said.
Over the past 10 months, several similar allegations have been leveled at Presentation High.
In a statement, the school did not address the lawsuit but welcomes the opportunity to tell its side of the story in court rather than responding to what it says are misleading and false allegations posted on social media.
“When the student tried to end the molestation, Hicks told her he would kill himself,” Turek said.
The suit claims the administration shamed the student into silence, allowing Hicks to leave the school with a clean record only to find another teaching job at a school for kids with learning disabilities.
“At that school, he was later found guilty of sex crimes with a minor and is now a lifetime sex offender,” Turek said.
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