Nearly three years after an explosive op-ed in the Washington Post during the height of the “Me Too” movement snowballed into an avalanche of sexual misconduct allegations at San Jose’s Presentation High School, a prestigious all-girls Catholic school, a months-long independent investigation “sustained allegations of sexual misconduct or abuse” against six former staffers and found school officials at times failed to report allegations of abuse to authorities and inappropriately retained teachers accused of misconduct.
The report found the abuse occurred over a span of decades, from the early 1980's through 2013, although it did not delve into a 2004 allegation from a former student who said she was sexually abused by her theater teacher because the claim was at the center of a lawsuit that has since been settled. That teacher was later forced to register as a sex offender when we was caught by police at another school with child pornography on his computer.
“Some of the conduct was reported to former Principals Marian Stuckey or Mary Miller or other Staff at the time, but no action – or ineffective action – was taken,” the investigation conducted by Sacramento law firm Van Dermyden Maddux concluded. “In several instances, there was a concerning lack of curiosity about information which was shared, resulting in a failure to adequately investigate or act timely on information which may have led to more immediate and effective responses.”
Former students who have come forward over the past three years with personal stories of abuse, many of which were covered by NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit since 2017, say they feel vindicated by the report’s findings.
“You feel a combination of re-living some of the trauma, but also some amazing relief that your story is being heard and that people know the truth,” said former student Kathryn Leehane, who made the first public accusation against the school in her 2017 Washington Post op-ed.
Leehane and several other accusers have spearheaded an effort since then to hold abusers at the school accountable, remove leaders who they say covered up allegations of sexual misconduct for decades, and improve the way the school handled misconduct allegations moving forward. Leehane created the Make Pres Safe website to serve as a clearinghouse for accusations of sexual abuse or misconduct at the school.
In a public letter released alongside Thursday’s investigation, Presentation High School President Holly Elkins said the school has taken significant action in response to the findings and forwarded a copy of the report to the San Jose Police Department, which opened an investigation in 2018 into claims school officials violated state mandated reporter laws, but to the dismay of accusers, closed the case more than a year later without making any arrests.
Elkins said Presentation has removed the names of former principals Mary Miller and Marian Stuckey, who presided at the school’s helm for more than forty years combined, from all public spaces at the school. The report found both leaders failed to respond appropriately on multiple occasions when current or former students reported abuse, and concluded they took a defensive approach when those allegations later became public.
Among the other actions taken by school officials in response to the investigation were issuing another apology to victims, which Miller and Stuckey never publicly did, and enacting a new records retention policy that “meets or exceeds best practices.”
“To the survivors of abuse, we deeply and sincerely apologize,” the letter stated. “The stark truth is that our school did not live up to its commitment to protect you. We added further harm when we responded defensively when reports of past abuse began to surface in 2017. We understand that words cannot measure our regret or erase the harm that you endured.”
Confirmed Sexual Misconduct
The law firm’s probe, which began in September of last year, included interviews with 75 individuals, “including administrators, faculty, staff, former students, Board Members, and other members of the Pres Community,” as well as a review of hundreds of pages of documents that were provided by the school and witnesses, according to the report.
“None of the individuals the investigators named in the report are currently employed at Presentation,” the school’s letter stated. “Investigators received sufficient information to form a good faith belief that sexual misconduct or abuse occurred by five former faculty members and one former coach for conduct that took place from the early 1990’s to 2013.
Among those six names were five previously known to NBC Bay Area and one new name. NBC Bay Area has reported on four of them but was unable to corroborate accusations against the fifth.
NBC Bay area was unable to reach any of the teachers named in the report late Thursday, but investigators said none cooperated with the probe.
The first among the six former staffers named in the report is former Spanish and French teacher John Fernandez, who taught at the school between 1982 and 2004, and died of cancer in 2015.
Investigators say they learned of sexual misconduct allegations involving Fernandez and 14 separate Presentation High School students, including Kathryn Leehane, who said Ferandez showed her a pornographic photo and touched her inappropriately while alone with her in his classroom in the early 1990’s.
A classmate of Leehane’s, who has not publicly discussed her allegations, also reported being sexually assaulted by Fernandez during a school trip that was chaperoned by the teacher in 1990.
The report concluded Fernandez engaged in “inappropriate and unwanted sexual conduct” and found that several staff members, including Miller and Stuckey, were aware of some of Fernandez’s conduct but never reported it to authorities or acted against the teacher.
“There is no indication that Pres reported any of Fernandez’s conduct to CPS or law enforcement,” the report stated.
In fact, after school leaders were aware of Fernandez’s alleged conduct, he was awarded Teacher of the Year in the mid-1990’s and continued teaching at the school until 2004.
Orozco was a name previously mentioned by a source to NBC Bay Area, but this news organization was unable to confirm the allegations and never named the teacher in any reporting.
However, investigators concluded the teacher had inappropriate relationships with at least three students between 1980 and 1981 and engaged in sexual misconduct with at least one of them. The report found that rumors concerning Orozco swirled around the school, but there was no evidence school officials knew about the misconduct.
“One student reported concerns about Orozco to Miller in the 1990’s but did not specifically identify Orozco or the nature of the concerns,” the report stated.
Investigators found that former English and Journalism teacher Jeff House, who taught at the school between 1999 and 2004, had a sexual relationship with a student shortly after she graduated from Presentation.
“At a minimum, House likely engaged in grooming or other boundary-crossing conduct,” the reported stated, noting the proximity in time between the student’s graduation and the sexual encounter.
Investigators found that Mary Miller found out about the relationship, but did not conduct any investigation or report the conduct.
The former student who reported the relationship spoke to NBC Bay Area back in 2017. You can read more about that here.
Kris White was a religion teacher at Presentation between 2001 and 2003. In 2002, the investigation found White called a student into his office and “made romantic overtures towards her.”
He also gave the student a note, reviewed by investigators, telling the student “I’m obsessed with you,” “You’re the only reason I get up and go to work in the morning,” and, “I got out on dates but I don’t enjoy them because all I do is think about you.”
Investigators found Miller failed to take appropriate action after learning of White’s conduct.
“While Miller promptly responded to the student’s reported concerns by meeting with the student, her parents, and White, Miller failed to appropriately address the conduct, or take steps to protect the student,” the reported stated. “Rather, Miller put undue pressure on the student by revealing information about White’s personal situation and requesting he be able to continue his employment.”
Miller never reported the conduct to CPS or law enforcement, the report stated.
The allegations against Roe are among the most recent and her accuser’s family remains outraged she was never arrested or prosecuted.
Roe was the school’s Varsity Water Polo Coach between 2011 and 2013 and was 24-years-old when she was accused of sexually assaulting then 14-year-old water polo player Grace Leonis, who spoke to NBC Bay Area in 2018.
Leonis said the coach digitally penetrated her in the back of a car after a water polo meet.
Investigators found there was enough evidence to sustain sexual misconduct allegations against Roe.
“Roe acknowledged to the police she engaged in sexual misconduct towards [Leonis], including sending [Leonis] a picture of her vibrator; possibly telling [Leonis] she loved her, and, physically touching [Leonis] on the knee,” the reported stated.
Dave Garbo was the only former teacher named in the report that was completely new to NBC Bay Area.
The former English teacher, who taught at the school as recently as 2017, was accused of grooming a student while she was at Presentation and having a sexual encounter with the student soon after she graduated.
According to investigators, the former student said in a written statement provided to Miller in late 2017, after Leehane’s op-ed, that Garbo had sexually assaulted her in a hotel room when she was 19-years-old and “too drunk” to consent. Garbo was 38 at the time, according to the report.
In this instance, investigators found Miller responded promptly and reported the incident to police within a week of receiving the notice. By that point, however, Miller’s past conduct was already under scrutiny.
The report also detailed allegations against six other staffers who are not identified by name because investigators concluded their behavior did not meet the definition of sexual misconduct or there was less supporting evidence to back up the claims.
While investigators found plenty to be troubled by, the report also detailed significant steps Presentation High School has taken over the past two years to address the sexual misconduct allegations, which are listed in full here:
• In the fall of 2018, Pres created the Office of Prevention of Student Bullying, Harassment & Abuse (Office), which is modeled after Title IX regulations and best practices. Importantly, its Director delivers reports to the Board of Directors. The Office is charged with facilitating efforts to prevent student bullying, harassment, and abuse; responding to current students, parents, faculty, and staff who report concerns related to student bullying, harassment, and abuse; conducting outreach to students, teachers, staff, and parents to prevent student bullying, harassment, and abuse; and, training students, faculty, and staff on the prevention of student bullying, harassment, and abuse, including mandatory reporting obligations.
• Also in the fall of 2018, Pres launched a new app-based reporting program, which allows students to easily report any concerns. According to the STOPit website, “STOPit provides simple, fast, and powerful anonymous reporting via the STOPit Mobile App, Web & Hotline. STOPit Messenger enables anonymous, 2-way dialogue between administrators and reporters in real-time—course correcting issues before they turn into emergencies.”
• Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, Pres implemented more frequent and robust mandatory reporting training for all staff, which is annual and on-going. The curriculum includes training on the warning signs of abuse. Pres also added two additional student safety trainings in the 2018-2019 school year. In 2019, Pres conducted staff training regarding child abuse, which covered the different types of child abuse and mandated reporting requirements. On May 13, 2019, Pres also conducted Mandated Reporter and Professional Boundaries/Conduct Training.
• Pres implemented new policies and procedures around bullying, harassment, and abuse, and boundaries related to faculty- and staff-student relationships. Pres’ website includes the “Faculty Policies Relating to Students,” which include sections on “Professional Responsibilities,” “Boundaries (Faculty/Staff-Student Relationships), and “Overnight Chaperone Responsibilities.” Some key features of these new policies and procedures include an emphasis on the need to maintain professional boundaries with any current students, former students under the age of 21, and applicants for admission. As examples, the new policies expressly prohibit communicating with students on any issues other than those serving an educational purpose; socializing with students outside of school or outside of a school activity without a parent or guardian present; and, sharing or inquiring about “overly personal details of a student’s private relationships.”
• Pres has updated the school’s Student Wellness Program to include student safety, focusing on healthy relationships, dating and how to spot abuse. Pres’ Student Wellness Program webpage states, “Pres is proud to partner with One Love Foundation to bring their relationship abuse curriculum to our students and parents.” One Love Foundation “educates young people about healthy and unhealthy relationships, empowering them to identify and avoid abuse and learn how to love better.”
• Pres has made significant changes to its governance, including hiring a new President and making changes to the Board to address perceptions of conflicts of interest or any perception of influence which may flow from a personal relationship. Many faculty members, staff members, and alum expressed support of Pres’ new leadership. Elkins has had one-on-one meetings with alumna, Board Members, employees, and others in the community to listen to community concerns and suggestions. Elkins expressed her deep commitment to addressing, correcting and preventing sexual harassment.
• Pres hired General Counsel to provide legal advice and guidance. Previously, Pres did not have a formal general counsel to advise it on personnel and compliance issues, including how to respond to complaints regarding sexual misconduct.
• Pres became a member of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS), a nonprofit organization that provides research and trend analysis, leadership and governance guidance, and professional development opportunities for school and Board leaders.
• In September 2019, Pres initiated this investigation, and charged “a thorough and impartial investigation into any reports of sexual abuse or misconduct by any Pres employee against any student throughout the history of the school.”