Southern California School District Settles Sex-Abuse Claims for $15 Million

REDLANDS, Calif. (CN) – A Southern California school district has agreed to pay over $15 million to settle sexual abuse lawsuits filed by eight former students.

All eight female victims were students at Redlands High School in San Bernardino County, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Six victims said they were sexually harassed, molested and abused by Kevin Patrick Kirkland, a former special education instructor, over a 10-year period starting in 2006, according to court documents.

Last year, Kirkland pleaded guilty to eight felonies and three misdemeanors in the sexual abuse of the students and served over one year in jail. He also had to register as a sex offender and had his teaching credentials revoked, according to the victims’ attorney Morgan Stewart with the law firm Manly Stewart.

Stewart said complaints against Kirkland acting inappropriately with students spanned a 12-year period, but the school district did not act on those complaints.

“Each time they gave him a slap on the wrist and told him to be on better behavior,” said Stewart in a phone interview.

The settlement is purely monetary and some changes in employee training took place in the last year during litigation, Stewart said. The parties agreed to the deal Aug. 24 after the district’s insurer gave its approval.

“It’s somewhat of a validation of the braveness of the girls,” said Stewart. “The willingness to speak out, and to tell what is a harmful history for them.”

All the victims were high school students at the time of the sexual abuse.

Two other school employees named in separate lawsuits also settled last week, including former technical director Daniel Bachman who admitted to sexually abusing one of the female victims. According to court records, Bachman was investigated by law enforcement but was not charged with a crime.

Former English teacher Brian Townsley was accused of sexually abusing a 15-year-old student, but district officials only reassigned him to another site and did not report the accusations to police according to court documents.

Stewart said the school district needs to address its systemic problems with faculty and administrators who do not follow through on abuse complaints. Many of those administrators who did not act on the complaints still work for the district, he said.

“The district has a long way to go and unless they do some top-down changes they’re going to have the same problems happen in the future,” said Stewart. “The problem isn’t the training. It’s the failure to follow through and the administrators are failing at that.”

Last week’s settlement is the not first time the school district has had to pay for a teacher’s misconduct.

In 2014, a Redlands Unified School District teacher became pregnant after having sex with one of her students. Laura Elizabeth Whitehurst, then 28, admitted to having sex with three students.

One of the boys sued the school district, Whitehurst and Citrus Valley High School in state court.

In his complaint, he claimed that administrators knew of Whitehurst’s proclivities. She told the student it was “divine intervention” that made her pregnant, according to court records.

The school district agreed to pay $6 million to the student.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the school district said they are unable to comment on any details regarding the lawsuits, but in a statement said they “sincerely hope this settlement will be a basis for healing for the victims and their families.”

“Regrettably, Redlands Unified is unable to erase the repugnant actions of these individuals,” according to the statement.

Officials said they will be examining the district’s current policies, practices, staff training and reporting protocols. They have hired a child sexual abuse expert to work with staff and school police officers will be on campus to ensure that all schools can identify registered sex offenders on campus.

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