After two days of deliberations, a Santa Clara County jury on Monday found a San Jose principal guilty of failing to report to the proper authorities that an 8-year-old girl said she had been sexually abused by a teacher.
After the jury announced its misdemeanor guilty verdict, former O.B. Whaley Elementary School Principal Lyn Vijayendran cried softly in court, and then moved closer to her attorney. She did not speak publicly, though she had testified during the trial.
The 36-year-old former principal was immediately sentenced to 100 hours of community service and two years probation. She had faced up to six months in jail.
Jury forewoman Susan Lagassa told reporters after court that she had felt Vijayendran had "dropped the ball," and should have acted on her suspicions.
Prosecutors had charged Vijayendran with not taking seriously - and not telling police - that a mother told her that teacher Craig Chandler, 35, had acted strangely - and with a sexual nature - toward her daughter last October.
When Vijayendran took the stand during the two-day trial that started on Oct. 31., she told the jury that she believed the teacher's account of the story at the time, and later regretted that she did.
Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Alison Filo has maintained that there was enough there so that the principal should have known better: The mother showed Vijayendran a suspicious stain that her daughter had on her jacket - something the principal allegedly dismissed. The mother then ended up washing the jacket, which hampered any type of further investigation, Filo said.
And instead of calling police, Filo said Vijayendran interviewed the girl, taking notes (PDF), and after speaking with the girl's mother about the girl's jacket with the stain, told her it "was not important," according to prosecutors.
"We hope that mandatory reporters in our community understand their basic obligation to contact law enforcement every time they so much as suspect that a child has been harmed,’’ Filo said in a statement following the verdict. “In the words of the defendant, ‘I would have been crazy not to realize that this child was describing a sex act.’ Getting talked out of that reasonable suspicion by her own inadequate investigation just isn’t a defense.”
Vijayendran's attorney Eric Geffon had previously sent NBC Bay Area a written statement, saying that his client has "spent her entire career dedicated to children. Their safety is her utmost concern."
Vijayendran's trial stems from the criminal case of a teacher at her former school: Chandler was arrested in January on charges that he sexually abused five girls - his signature act was blindfolding the young students and touching them inappropriately during recess and lunch hour when no one else was around. He is in custody, and could face a maximum of 75 years in prison if he is convicted of all counts.
There are also two lawsuits filed in this case. The 10-year-old victims filed suit against the Evergreen School District (PDF), Chandler and Vijayendran, claiming that there was negligent hiring and training and emotional distress. In October, a parent had also sued the district for negligently hiring and supervising Chandler.