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Federal review slams Redlands Unified’s failures to address sexual abuse complaints by students

The Redlands Unified School District has entered into an agreement with the federal government to address concerns that the district failed to respond properly to reports of sexual misconduct against students, including by employees, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced Thursday, April 25.

Among a litany of violations detailed by the Office for Civil Rights are claims that Redlands Unified failed to create or maintain sufficient records of its responses to sexual harassment complaints to demonstrate compliance with Title IX, a federal law enacted in 1972 that protects individuals from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

In its resolution agreement with the OCR, the district does not admit to any Title IX violations. However, it has agreed to, among other things, ensure the district coordinates Title IX compliance through its Title IX coordinator, notify students, parents, and employees of its designated Title IX coordinator, and assessing the effectiveness of the district’s Title IX anti-discrimination efforts.

In 74% of the 35 incidents reviewed involving complaints of sexual assault or harassment against students from 2017 to 2020, Redlands Unified did not provide any evidence that the district took action required under Title IX to “address the effects of harassing conduct on targeted students where necessary and to prevent recurrence of the harassment,” the OCR said in a statement accompanying a 20-page letter to the district.

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“In addition, OCR found that the district failed to investigate or redress employee-to-student and student-to-student sexual assault allegations after they were reported to law enforcement or other state agencies, leaving affected students vulnerable to the discrimination that Title IX prohibits but that law enforcement does not address,” the OCR said. “Likewise, the district did not complete or take required investigative steps in other reported employee-to-student and student-to-student cases.”

Redlands Unified, according to the Office for Civil Rights, has entered into a resolution agreement to remedy its Title IX violations.

In a statement Thursday, Redlands Unified spokesperson Christine Stephens commended the Office for Civil Rights for its “thorough review and collaborative efforts in finalizing this agreement.”

“The District is fully committed to complying with the terms of the resolution agreement,” Stephens said. “We take the findings seriously and are dedicated to making necessary improvements to ensure a safe and equitable learning environment for all students continues to be our number one priority.

“We are actively working with the Office for Civil Rights to implement the agreed-upon measures, as well as continuing processes the District implemented prior to this agreement, and are optimistic about the positive changes these efforts will bring to our community.”

A Southern California News Group investigation of Redlands Unified that began in 2018 and spanned more than two years revealed that the school district, for decades, frequently failed to report to authorities those teachers and other employees accused of grooming and sexually abusing students.

SCNG’s investigation revealed that, in some cases, Redlands Unified officials thwarted police investigations of sexual abuse cases.

“Redlands Unified School District has a sordid history of enabling and ignoring sexual assaults on students by at least 25 predators during the past 20 years, and this is the latest example,” said Irvine attorney Morgan Stewart, whose firm has represented 37 former Redlands Unified students in lawsuits dating back to 2011 and was instrumental in uncovering the problems at the school district that prompted widespread publicity and federal and state probes.

In an email Thursday, Stewart said the sexual abuse involving his clients occurred at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

“This review echoes the claims that we have made in many of our lawsuits,” Stewart said. “It is my hope that this damning report will spur action by state and federal law enforcement against the administrators, teachers and staff who allowed this rampant abuse to continue unchecked for decades.”

Earlier this month, Stewart’s firm announced it had settled another sexual abuse lawsuit against the district, this one against former Clement Middle School teacher Timothy Rocester, who allegedly “sexually harassed, assaulted, and abused” the female victim in 2003, when she was in the seventh grade, Stewart said.

Stewart said he believes, based on the facts, that Rochester was one of the cases reviewed by the Office for Civil Rights.

Since 2016, Stewart’s firm has collected more $45.5 million from Redlands Unified to settle lawsuits by former students claiming they were sexually abused.

The Office for Civil Rights said that as a result of the district’s limited and incomplete recordkeeping practices, it was able to identify only seven incidents of student-to-student sexual misconduct that could constitute sexual assault over the three-year review period.

Based on the OCR’s review of documents and interviews with witnesses, it determined Redlands Unified:

  • Failed to address the effects of known sexual harassment on the targeted student or to take action to prevent further harassment, including retaliatory harassment.
  • Did not promptly and effectively investigate all reports of possible sexual harassment of which it had notice.
  • Failed to provide adequate notice of investigation outcomes to targeted students and their parents who made complaints of sexual harassment.
  • Did not offer or implement interim measures to support targeted students who reported sexual harassment..
  • Systemically failed to coordinate its response to sexual harassment, including sexual assault, through its designated Title IX coordinator.
  • Failed to notify the school community of the Title IX coordinator and how to file complaints with the Title IX coordinator by posting inconsistent information about the person the district designated to coordinate Title IX.
  • Failed to adopt, publish and apply equitable grievance procedures to address student-to-student sexual harassment.
  • Did not provide adequate notice of investigation outcomes to targeted students or their parents who complained of sexual harassment by staff and fellow pupils.

Furthermore, the OCR determined Redlands Unified had no system in place to monitor whether schools’ responses complied with Title IX requirements or to identify emergent patterns or systemic problems by school or districtwide.

According to the letter, Redlands Unified’s responses to sexual harassment incidents were inadequate. The OCR noted that in 26 of 35 cases, it did not provide any evidence to indicate that it took action to address the effects of the harassing conduct.

“In fact, during the review period, documentation maintained by the district showed that school administrators failed to identify many of the 35 incidents as sexual harassment,” the OCR said in the report.

Rocked by years of scandal and paying out tens of millions of dollars in legal settlements over sexual misconduct by teachers and staff, the district adopted sweeping reforms in 2018 and implemented its ACT (Actions Create Trust) Now initiative that included 10 measures to enhance student safety and raise awareness with employees.

In 2021, the district touted those reforms as paying off.

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However, less than three months later, a San Bernardino County grand jury issued a report saying that, despite the reforms, school and district personnel were still vague on state-mandated reporter laws and did not have a clear understanding of “reasonable suspicion” — information rising to the level that it warrants reporting suspected abuse to law enforcement or the Department of Children and Family Services.

Redlands Unified school board President Alex Vara said in a statement Thursday that during his tenure on the board the district’ has been committed to the safety of all students.

“We take the (OCR) findings seriously and are dedicated to continuing to provide safe learning environments for all our students,” Vara said.

He said the district implemented safety measures prior to the date of the its agreement with the OCR, which included the creation of a Title IX director, Mark Bline, who ensures all complaints are properly reported and that all staff attend monthly micro-trainings related to sexual harassment, mandated reporting and the district’s boundaries policy.

“We will fully implement the necessary improvements described in the agreement to further enhance and ensure safe and equitable learning environments for all students as this is our number one priority,” he said.

Source: Orange County Register

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