District sued for not reporting coach

School accused of conducting its own investigation into sexual abuse suspicion

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District sued for not reporting coach

Image courtesy of news24-680.com

Image courtesy of news24-680.com

Image courtesy of news24-680.com

Patrick Rettig, Staff Writer

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California High and the San Ramon Valley Unified School District cannot escape the ominous shadow left by the Kevin Lopez scandal of last year.

A new lawsuit has been filed against the school district and New Life Church in Alamo, alleging that school and district administrators knew about Lopez’s sexual abuses almost a year before he was arrested on charges of lewd acts with children ages 14-15.

Attorney Robert Allard, who is representing the family of a former Cal High student, said that school and district administrators conducted their own investigation on Lopez instead of reporting a parent’s suspicion of sexual abuse involving the school’s head wrestling coach at the time to the police or Child Protective Services as is required by law.

“It appears that [an administrator] brought in Lopez to explain,” said Allard. “[The administrator] bought the story. This failure to report allowed [Lopez]  to keep accessing children.”

Lopez was arrested Sept. 9, 2014, on felony charges of lewd lascivious acts with children aged 14-15. He pleaded guilty to eight counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor and other related charges involving three boys from 2003 to 2014.

Lopez, 28, was sentenced on Feb. 6 to 10 years and eight months in prison.

Allard said emails and  copies of handwritten notes obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request appear to indicate that the school and district failed to report suspicions about Lopez.

In an email dated Sept. 10, 2014, the day after Lopez’s arrest, a district official indicated there was a conversation with a Cal administrator in November 2013.

The email read, “I found this email. I met with [the school administrator] in November.”

The email also included an earlier email exchange between the district official and school administrator.

“I have a personal issue I would like to discuss with you,” the district official wrote.

The school administrator responded by writing, “I appreciate our conversation yesterday. I had a discussion with our wrestling coach last night around 6PM. I could not confirm any of the concerns.”

In a handwritten note titled “11/13/2013 Kevin Lopez,” eight bullet points are listed with vague statements that are hard to decipher. Allard said they appear to be statements detailing the interactions between Lopez and his victim, who attended Cal and New Life Church.

The next page is headed with “Kevin Lopez (student at CHS)” this page includes a bulleted list saying “abused at wrestling camp” and “Victim is now 24 years old (redacted)” and finally “Maybe a church incidents (similar behavior).”

Allard said he could not positively confirm the author of this document.

If the allegations of the lawsuit are true, it means the school violated California State mandated reporter laws by conducting its own investigation.

All school district employees are mandated reporters, but they are not sexual abuse investigators. State law says that only law enforcement agencies and the Department of Child Protective Services are qualified to investigate claims of child sexual abuse.

The Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act outlines the rules for mandated reporters. All of Cal’s teachers, administrators, counselors, and athletic coaches are mandated reporters. They undergo a video webinar annually that is comprehensive in the covering of all laws and requirements of mandated reporting.

The webinar also includes a test that employees must pass tin order to be qualified as trained mandated reporters.

This means all school employees are required by law to report any reasonable claims of abuse or neglect in any form. Failure to report could potentially result in jail time or fines if a person is found guilty.

“SRVUSD conducts annual training to make sure that every employee understands their responsibilities as mandated reporters of suspected abuse,” district spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich wrote in an email. “We take mandated reporting very seriously.”

But all the training still may  not have been enough in this case.

“Administrators in schools are not trained to identify predators,” said Allard. “[The reporting] should have happened years before. [Administrators] don’t know what to look for.”

Principal Sarah Cranford declined to comment on both the pending litigation and mandated reporting. Graswich also declined to comment on the pending litigation.

But Graswich did write in her email, “The safety of our students is our top priority at the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.”

If what the suit claims is true, the district could end up paying significant damages to the family of the former student. Allard does not know how much in damages his client is seeking.

“He’s been significantly impaired,” Allard said of the victim.

According to the Government Tort Claim filed on behalf of the victim by Allard and his co-counsel, Lauren A. Cerri, the boy was a student at Cal from August 2013 through September 2014. He was molested by Lopez while on the Cal’s wrestling team, which Lopez coached since he graduated from Cal in 2005.

After graduating Lopez became an assistant wrestling coach until he was promoted to head coach in 2012.

“Pedophiles go where the kids are,” said Allard. “He was handsy, furnished alcohol, and went on overnight trips alone with the students.”

The lawsuit was originally reported on Oct. 20 in the Contra Costa Times, which blasted the district in an editorial a few weeks later.

The editorial pointed out that if the allegations are proven to be true,  Cal could join a long list of East Bay schools that have failed to report physical and sexual abuse to authorities.

The lawsuit has opened old wounds for people who still remember the shock of the original arrest and sexual abuse allegations of last year. This new suit raises some very prevalent questions.

“How safe is it for anyone here?” asked teacher Scott Hodges. “To me it’s so important to have an environment that’s safe to students and staff.”

Teacher Ghazala Niazi questioned how allegations of sexual abuse can go unreporteed.

“You can’t let that go,” Niazi said. “For some kids, school is your refuge. You need to be protected.”