Their new schools knew nothing about allegations against these Bay Area teachers. Should they have?
Kathryn Leehane wasn’t surprised to discover that former Presentation High teachers, named last week in a bombshell report that exposed years of sexual misconduct and coverups at the San Jose Catholic girls school, were still teaching in the Bay Area.
She had suffered through her own experience of being sexually abused by a teacher at the prominent school when she was a student in the 1990s. And over the weekend, screenshots and tips popped up in her phone. They traced how another teacher, accused in the report of a non-consensual sexual encounter with a former student, had left Presentation for a Daly City public high school and then moved to a San Mateo middle school — all within the last three years. Leehane knew exactly how.
“As long as he had a clean record police-wise, the other schools wouldn’t have known,” she said.
That’s why Leehane and other advocates have been lobbying California lawmakers to pass legislation to make sure career paths like that can’t happen again. But for years, their effort has stalled in the face of opposition from school employees’ unions and civil liberties groups. Leehane hopes the scathing Presentation report can bring a new urgency to the fight.
The Bay Area News Group reported Sunday that at least three of the six former Presentation faculty members named in last week’s report were still teaching in the region.
Jeff House, accused of grooming and sexually assaulting a former student at his home, now teaches through College Board. Dave Garbo, accused of having a sexual encounter with a 19-year-old former student who was “too drunk” to consent, taught at Jefferson High in Daly City and Abbott Middle School in San Mateo. Kris White, who allegedly told a student he loved her, worked at a string of Bay Area schools before landing as head of school at Fusion Academy’s Palo Alto campus.
Interviews this week revealed none of their current employers knew about the allegations before they were hired. After the report’s release, Garbo and White were placed on administrative leave, and the College Board said on Tuesday that it is “reassessing (House’s) involvement.” On Wednesday, a top Santa Cruz private school announced it was investigating House’s behavior when he taught there between 2004 and 2015. And the Catholic Diocese of San Jose on Friday said it was re-examining whether there were any complaints against House when he taught at San Jose’s prestigious Archbishop Mitty High School between 1982 and 1999, before moving on to Presentation.
House, Garbo and White did not respond to interview requests or chose not to comment. None of them were charged with a crime.
The three were among six former faculty members named in a report last week by a law firm that Presentation hired to investigate years of sexual abuse and misconduct allegations, which surfaced during the #MeToo movement. The report also blasted the school’s former top administrators for often failing to follow the state’s mandated reporting law that requires educators to contact police about all suspicions of abuse. The diocese said it would also investigate how one of those administrators, former school principal Marian Stuckey, handled complaints when she left Presentation to serve as the diocese’s superintendent of Catholic schools between 1993 and 2009.
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.
That the accused teachers were able to keep working, says Terri Miller, president of the group Stop Educator Sexual Assault, Misconduct and Exploitation (SESAME), is “in a word: despicable.”
For the past three years, Miller and Leehane have pushed for a state law that would require schools and accused teachers to disclose abuse allegations to prospective employers.
California Sen. Mike Morrell (R-Rancho Cucamonga) first proposed the Sexual Abuse-Free Education (SAFE) Act in April 2018, with both Miller and Leehane testifying in support.
But in 2018, Morrell withdrew the bill after the Senate Education Committee made amendments that he said gutted the bill. The next year, Morrell said, the committee refused to hear a similar bill unless it got a “stamp of approval” from teacher’s unions.
On both occasions, the California School Employees’ Association (CSEA) and the ACLU opposed the bill, saying it lacked protections for accused individuals.
“Prospective employer(s) will generally have no way to distinguish those who were falsely accused from actual abusers,” the ACLU wrote.
“(Unsubstantiated) allegations will have to be reported forever and will hang over the employee, like a Scarlett (sic) letter,” the CSEA wrote in its letter of opposition last year.
This week, both Morrell and the CSEA claimed a lack of cooperation from the other side in the debate over the bill.
“Why would they not want to protect our children?” Morrell wrote when asked about criticism toward the bill. According to Morrell, allegations found to be false through investigation would not be disclosed under the act.
“Our office even offered amendments that would have required schools to initiate and complete investigations of allegations, but they were refused,” he added.
CSEA President Ben Valdepeña insists school emplo...