Presentation High School settled a lawsuit this month filed by a former student who said she was sexually abused in 2004 by the school’s former theater director.
Danielle Wood, now an adult living in New York, said she was a 15-year-old sophomore when she was groomed – then sexually molested – by theater director Jeff Hicks.
Wood said she was summoned to principal Mary Miller’s office after another student witnessed Hicks kissing her, but school leaders never reported the incident to police as required by law.
Wood’s attorney, Ken Turek, says he’s unable to discuss the specific details of the settlement but that his client is pleased with the outcome.
Presentation High School President Holly Elkins, who joined the school after former President Mary Miller resigned last fall, released a statement Wednesday, saying:
“We have reached an agreement with a former student for reports of abuse she suffered in 2004 by a former teacher and the handling of her report. We have made every effort to handle this matter equitably and with sensitivity to the plaintiff, and will not be discussing the details of the settlement. We are deeply sorry that any student was ever victimized during her time at Presentation and stand in support with all survivors of sexual abuse and misconduct. An on-going external investigation is underway to ensure that we are doing everything we can to help support survivors, protect students and heal our community.”
In a 2018 interview with NBC Bay Area, Wood’s mother said she felt pressured by the school to keep the incident quiet when Miller suggested that involving authorities could risk exposing and embarrassing her daughter.
“Would our daughter be willing to go public, press charges, and be willing to give her testimony in a court of law about what happened between her and Hicks,” Linda Wood recalls Miller asking.
Wood said the conversation then turned to Hicks’ employment – Miller telling her that Hicks was already scheduled to work as the director of the performing arts camp over the summer, for which the school had already collected $65,000.
“We were asked if we wanted them to give back the $65,000 they had collected for the performing arts camp, and if they did, then it would be impossible for them to protect our daughter’s identity,” Wood said.
Wood said Hicks continued teaching through the Summer before quietly being let go.
In 2014, Hicks was convicted of possessing child pornography and annoying or molesting a minor while employed at Stanbridge Academy, a private school for children with learning disabilities.
Hicks declined our interview requests when the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit reached him by phone in 2018.
Wood’s allegations of sexual misconduct at the school are among the many reported by NBC Bay Area following former student Kathryn Leehane’s 2017 Washington Post Op-Ed during the “Me Too” movement, which described being groped and shown a pornographic photo by her Spanish teacher in the early 1990’s. The former student created a website called “Make Pres Safe,” which catalogues accusations of sexual abuse or misconduct at the school going all the way back to the 1970’s.
In September, new school president Holly Elkins apologized to victims of abuse and announced an independent investigation into allegations of past sexual misconduct.