As a South Bay teacher charged with sexually abusing five of his students awaits trial, the Investigative Unit exposes the school district at which he worked ignoring a federal law designed to protect students in cases like this. Jenna Susko reports. This story was first aired at 11 p.m. on Jan. 6.
OB Whaley Elementary in Southeast San Jose sits at the center of a sexual abuse case involving one of its teachers and the Investigative Unit has uncovered the school district not complying with a federal law meant to protect students in situations just like this.
The law, Title IX, requires schools have a system in place to file sexual harassment and abuse complaints, a trained coordinator to process them and that this information be made public for staff, students and parents.
At the time of the alleged abuse, Evergreen did not have a trained Title IX coordinator or contact information published online.
“It is very difficult to describe how much damage this has done,” the father of one of the alleged victims told NBC Bay Area, in an exclusive, anonymous interview.
“It’s bad,” the mother said through tears, her husband placing his arm around her shoulder.
The parents, who spoke anonymously with NBC Bay Area in Spanish, describe their young daughter as a beautiful, responsible girl who loves to read and play with Disney princesses. She is also one of five OB Whaley students the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office identified as being sexually abused by Craig Chandler.
The alleged abuse came to light when a parent contacted police.
According to these hand written notes by then-principal, Lyn Vijayendran, a 2nd grader gave an account of being blindfolded by Chandler and him putting something in her mouth while alone in a classroom as part of a “Helen Keller lesson”.
Vijayendran testified in her own trial in November that she gave this information to district Human Resources Director, Carole Schmitt and was told to handle it on her own. Vijayendran did not report the allegations to police or Child Protective Services.
Schmitt then testified she had not received any sexual harassment or abuse training.
Yet according to the district, Schmitt is the Title IX Coordinator, the individual responsible for handling all sexual harassment and abuse complaints.
The Investigative Unit also found that her contact information was not published online, as required by Title IX, so staff and parents know who to contact in these situations.
Title IX is supposed to be enforced by the Department of Education. DOE informed NBC Bay Area it does not have the resources to monitor every school district but does perform investigations when requested by the public.
Even though a jury convicted Vijayendran of failing to report, an alleged victim’s attorney, Paul Matiasic, believes Evergreen should be held civilly accountable for failing to comply with Title IX.
“Title IX is in place to prevent these types of occurrences,” Matiasic told NBC Bay Area.
“I do firmly believe more kids were abused [at OB Whaley] by virtue of the fact that they failed to comply with Title IX.”
Matiasic is representing the family in a civil suit against Chandler, Evergreen and the school’s then-principal Vijayendran.
“Had they paid attention to that which they are obligated to do, we wouldn’t be sitting here talking today,” Matiasic said.
"If they had followed the law approriately, none of this would have happened," South Bay attorney Bob Allard told NBC Bay Area.
Allard is separately representing a 10-year-old alleged victim not identified by the District Attorney. This abuse allegedly occurred from 2010-2011.
"The information was conveyed to a Title IX coordinator and the appropriate action was not taken," Allard said.
Evergreen is not the first to ignore Title IX. The Investigative Unit exposed several Bay Area schools overlooking Title IX in November.
The Investigative Unit emailed more than 200 principals across the Bay Area, asking how to contact the Title IX coordinator. Less than half responded within two weeks and of those who did, most could not name the coordinator.
NBC Bay Area has reached out to Evergreen School District for two months to ask if the district plans to make changes to become Title IX compliant and if the coordinator will receive the necessary training. Superintendent Kathy Gomez declined NBC’s interview request. Human Resources Director Carole Schmitt did not respond. The school district’s attorney, Mark Davis did not answer NBC Bay Area’s questions.
So the Investigative Unit met up with the Superintendent outside her office.
“I think I directed you to our attorney,” Superintendent Gomez told NBC Bay Area.
“He has not answered any of our questions,” Investigative Reporter Jenna Susko responded. “Why can’t you answer simple questions about what your policy is and whether or not anyone has been trained on Title IX?”
Gomez directed NBC Bay Area to the attorney again and drove off.
Afterward, the attorney sent NBC Bay Area an email offering generic information about Title IX and stated that the coordinator has received training, but did not send any documentation to support that.
He also wrote:
“I do not believe the issues involving the OB Whaley situation necessarily involve Title IX issues. Rather, they involve allegations of harassment and child abuse.”
“Without NBC’s investigation into many Title IX issues and concerns how would we know about half of what’s going on in bay area schools?” Noreen Farrell, with Equal Rights Advocates told the Investigative Unit.
ERA has also filed a request for information from Evergreen, asking for proof it's following Title IX. She is still waiting for answers.
“What I would advise a school district that has faced these horrible allegations is that they should be upfront doing everything to make sure students feel safe, parents feel confident and that members of the public feel confident,” Farrell said.
“For educators to stick their heads in the sand about sexual abuse of minors and the application of Title IX is a real problem.”
NBC has uncovered that since contacting the district, Evergreen’s web site is now updated to include contact information for the Title IX Coordinator and a section explaining Title IX.
“I would like to say the first thing lost is trust. You lose trust in teachers, and you just don’t know who to trust,” the alleged victim’s father told the Investigative Unit, as his wife agreed.
The parents hope their voices and their pain will inspire change.
“I would ask that they would pay attention and follow these laws because it can have a terrible effect on the life of a family, when a tragedy happens,” the father said.
“I hope that this helps other school districts so they can take more responsibility and prevent such things from happening to other families.”
Teacher Craig Chandler is scheduled to appear in court January 22.
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