MARTINEZ, Calif. (CN) - School officials in a wealthy California town spent years protecting sexually abusive middle school teachers, a woman claims in court.
Kristen Cunnane claims that two teachers at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School sexually abused her in the 1990s. Cunnane says she was 11 when the harassment started.
In a complaint filed in Contra Costa County Superior Court, Cunnane says that science teacher Dan Witters was the first to molest her.
Witters - who committed suicide in 1996 after allegations of sexual misconduct first surfaced - was a known sexual predator, but the school district hired him anyway in 1990 and failed to protect children from him. Though the district is named in the complaint only as Doe 1, the allegations imply the Moraga School District.
Cunnane says that she was also sexually assaulted by her physical education teacher, Julie Correa, who is currently serving an eight-year sentence at Valley State Prison. Now 44, Correa had pleaded no contest to one felony count of sexual penetration under duress and three felony counts of sexually abusing a child aged 14 or 15 years old.
Cunnane says the Contra Costa Times newspaper uncovered letters and internal memos from 1994 to 1996 proving that school and district employees "had knowledge that sexual abuse and harassment was rife at the school, but failed to report it to authorities."
"One of the letters, dated June 12, 1994, was sent by a former school student to defendant Doe 2, the school principal at the time," according to the complaint. "In this letter, the former student described how Dan Witters, a science teacher at the school, had sexually molested her in June of 1990, including by kissing her on the mouth and placing his hand on the inside of her shirt. In the letter, the student stated that she was reporting the molestation so that 'no one else [would] be put in a similar situation' and that she 'wanted the administration to know, and to take some sort of action ... to prevent such an incident from occurring again.'" (Brackets and ellipses in original.)
The school principal, named in Cunnane's complaint as Doe 2, has been identified by the Contra Costa Times as retired principal Bill Walters. The Times identifies the other Doe defendants as retired assistant principal Paul Simonin and retired superintendant John Cooley.
"Rather than immediately reporting the incident to the authorities, including Child Protective Services and the Contra Costa County District Attorney's office, as [Walters] was required to do under the law, he did, essentially, nothing," the lawsuit states. "In a memo from [Walters] to [Cooley] dated November 24, 1996, [Walters] detailed his actions, or lack thereof, upon receipt of the June 12, 1994 letter. In that memo, [Walters] admits that he did nothing for two months because 'the instructional staff had been dismissed for the summer.' When he finally found time to address the sexual abuse of his former student by a teacher, in August of 1994, [Walters] actually gave a copy of the letter to Witters, the alleged molester, thus identifying the student by name. In the same memo, [Walters] reports that he asked Witters if the allegations were true, accepted Witters' denial and then counseled Witters that he could lose his job if the student pursued charges." (Emphasis in original.)
Walters also allegedly discussed the issue with Simonin, the assistant principal who also failed to report the abuse to authorities as required by California law. Both decided they should "not pursue the issue," Cunnane says.