SD Unified fails to report sexual abuse complaint - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

SD Unified fails to report sexual abuse complaint involving coach

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) -- There are serious allegations that the San Diego Unified School District tried to cover up an alleged sexual relationship between a softball coach and a student.

The student's mother spoke exclusively to CBS News 8 after she says her complaints to the principal and the school district went nowhere.

The allegation involves a lesbian relationship between a softball coach at Madison High School and a former student, who is now age 18.

CBS News 8 investigated the mother's claims, and discovered her complaint was not turned over to the San Diego Police Department, as required by state law.

"This year was a very memorable year for me, my daughter's senior year, of course," said Stacey, while flipping through the pages of the Madison High School 2012/13 softball yearbook.

Stacey was an assistant coach on the Madison High softball team. Her daughter played short stop and pitched.

"I noticed strange behavior the same month she turned 18," according to Stacey.

CBS News 8 is not using the mother's last name because her teenage daughter is the player who ended up in a lesbian relationship with the team's pitching coach.

The daughter did not want to be interviewed by the media, according to Stacey.

"At what point it actually began to be physical, I have no evidence," said Stacey. "However, I do believe it began before she was 18 to prep her for what was to happen next."

Stacey found out about the relationship over the summer -- shortly after her daughter had turned 18 and graduated -- and filed complaints with Madison High School Principal Richard Nash and the San Diego Unified School District.  The teen's grandmother also filed complaints.

"My mother sent her statement to Principal Nash as well as the school district. I sent my information directly to Principal Nash." Stacey said.

So imagine Stacey's surprise when she received the following voice mail response from the San Diego Unified School Police Department:

"My name is Alfonso Contreras. I'm a sergeant with the San Diego Unified School Police Department. I did some research on the incident you called in regarding your daughter and the inappropriate relationship with the coach. I spoke to the officer who went out to the call and there was no report taken due to the statement he received from your daughter."

Stacey's daughter, as it turned out, had submitted a written statement to the school district claiming she had turned 18 before the relationship began.

CBS News 8 is not identifying the 23-year-old coach because she has not been charged with a crime.

In fact, the San Diego Police Department never conducted any investigation into the coach-student relationship because the school district never reported it.

"It was handled administratively versus criminally," said San Diego Unified School Police Chief Rueben Littlejohn.

According to Chief Littlejohn, administrators at Madison High School did their own investigation and determined no crime was committed.

"Based on all information obtained by the administrators, and statements obtained by the administrators, there was no indication that it occurred when the party involved was underage," said Littlejohn.

But in California, school administrators are required by law to report suspected child abuse to an outside agency to avoid conflict of interest.

Under California Penal Code 11165.9, "Reports of suspected child abuse or neglect shall be made by mandated reporters ... to any police department or sheriff's department, not including a school district police or security department..."

Stacey said no investigation was ever done to find out exactly when the relationship began between the coach and her daughter, and whether sexual contact occurred when her daughter was a minor.

"They should have checked her phone. They should have checked her laptop. They should have spoken to my mother. They should have spoken to me. They should have talked to the kids on the team," Stacey said.

The school district emailed news 8 a statement, which said in part:

"Child abuse must involve a victim under the age of 18. In this instance, no district employees could form a reasonable suspicion of child abuse."

Suspicion or no suspicion, over the summer, the entire Madison High School softball coaching staff was let go, including the pitching coach in question, the head coach, and Stacey.

The district said the coaches were let go because Madison High School Principal Richard Nash "exercised his administrative privilege to make some personnel changes."

Principal Nash declined to answer questions about the case and walked away when a CBS News 8 camera crew showed up on campus.

"It worries me. It scares me," said Stacey. "Because if they, in my opinion, swept this under the rug, how many other things have been swept under the rug that we don't know about?"

After CBS News 8 started asking questions, San Diego Unified School District officials decided to brief San Diego Police Department sex crimes officers about the case. No criminal charges have been filed.

Child advocate, former teacher, and parent Judy Neufeld-Fernandez has seen this all before from San Diego Unified.

"If I were a principal and a parent came to me and said, ‘I believe my child is having sex with your employee,' it's time to call police," said Neufeld-Fernandez.

When Neufeld-Fernandez's child and other students were being bullied by a teacher at Hardy Elementary in the College area, San Diego Unified, once again, did not report it to police.

"The district did a self-investigation but I question the the veracity of that investigation because not one victim was contacted, not one parent of the victim was contacted or interviewed," said Neufeld-Fernandez.

The parents at Hardy Elementary ended up filing a complaint with the San Diego County Grand Jury, which issued a highly critical report earlier this year on the school district's handling of adult-to-child bullying.

"I was thrilled when the report came out and was anticipating that now enough of a public light had been shone that they would be motivated to fix these problems," said Neufeld-Fernandez. "The sad reality that I'm hearing from parents, on almost a weekly basis, is that the district is still self-investigating."

"Educators and staff members -- from the custodian on up to the principal – need to be fully aware of their responsibilities under the law to report abuse, all types of abuse," said Neufeld-Fernandez. "All allegations of child abuse need to be reported to police."

Not reporting cases of suspected child abuse has also cost the school district a lot of money.

Attorney John Gomez filed a lawsuit on behalf of a former student who was sexually abused by her teacher at the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts, which is part of the San Diego Unified School District.

"In our case, San Diego Unified ended up paying a judgment, by the time the appeal got done, of about a million dollars. And, that was a case where the abuse was not discovered until the student was over 18 as well," said Gomez.

The female student started having sex with her 36-year-old teacher, John Lee, starting when she was age 16.  In 2007, Lee pleaded guilty to statutory rape and was sentenced to 16 months in prison.  Gomez filed suit the same year.

"(The district) fought the case all the way through trial and through appeal. So there was never an acknowledgment that they did anything wrong, that they were going to make things better, or even that our client had been harmed," said Gomez.

The lawsuit revealed that several school employees suspected Lee was having sex with the teenage student, but never reported it to police.

"The (district's) approach was that she had entered into a consensual relationship that continued after she graduated with the suggestion that it was her fault for luring this teacher into this relationship," said Gomez.

The San Diego Unified School District emailed CBS News 8 the following statement:

"The safety and well-being of our students are a top priority. We look into all concerns and complaints. We take our responsibilities as mandated child abuse reporters very seriously and follow our Admin. Procedures and the law. It is not unusual for school administrators and School Police to work together on a complaint. We are a team with the shared goal to reach a conclusion based on fact and the law. There are some situations where parents/families are not satisfied with the outcomes of our investigation. That is unfortunate."

"That's appalling to me because now they have established a pattern of not caring," said Stacey, the mother of the former student and softball player at Madison High School.

Stacey has now decided to file her own complaints with the county grand jury and the San Diego Police Department.

"It's important that everyone be made aware that those who we trust, we cannot," Stacey said. "And we need to make sure that we are the guardians of our children because they, clearly, are not doing a very good job."

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