Presentation High: 20 students, alums now allege sex abuse involving 8 teachers, staff

Presentation High: 20 students, alums now allege sex abuse involving 8 teachers, staff

By John Woolfolk, February 7, 2018, Bay Area News Group, The Mercury News

The number of women claiming they were sexually abused as students at a prestigious San Jose Catholic girls high school has swelled to 20 while the number of accused staff has grown to eight. The mounting accusations surfaced as nearly 5,000 former students and their supporters have signed a petition demanding an independent investigation of how the administration handled reported abuse.

But even amid a global “#MeToo” reckoning of sexual abuse, the accusers say, Presentation High School officials are ignoring their demands, and the former students are urging alumnae to withhold financial support until school officials call for an independent investigation.

“It sounds like they’re hoping we’ll go away,” said Kathryn Leehane, who wrote Oct. 20 in the Washington Post about how she and a classmate complained decades ago about abuse by a former Presentation teacher to no avail. The teacher remained on the job and has since died.

Since her article, 18 other students and graduates have come forward with similar stories involving eight Presentation teachers or other staff, according to “#PresentationToo,” a group of alumnae, students, parents and others.

“It’s definitely gotten much bigger,” Leehane said. “I had no idea the can of worms I was opening. But once I heard from so many young women, I couldn’t turn my back. That’s not what Presentation taught me. They taught me to fight for the unrepresented.”

In a response Wednesday, Presentation’s board of directors continued to defend school officials. “In all instances, PHS administration acted responsibly and followed the laws of California in handling the cases that were reported.” A school official also questioned the reported number of alleged victims and abusers.

The board also was unfazed by the petition. “We do not create school policy based upon petitions and social media accounts,” its statement said.

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