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New Questions About Old Moraga Schools Sex Abuse Cases

Moraga School District officials tell a local newspaper they will investigate how the district handled allegations of repeated sex abuse of students by one of their teachers.

 

Moraga School District officials plan to look into the district's handling of sexual abuse allegations against a Joaquin Moraga Intermediate school teacher, even though that teacher committed suicide in 1996 after denying the allegations.

District officials told the Contra Costa Times they will examine how former JM principal Bill Walters and other district employees handled complaints made by students against science teacher Dan Witters before his death. The newspaper reported that Walters -- who is still a principal with the district -- was aware of reports of abuse but failed to report complaints of abuse to local law enforcement.

Witters was reported missing from his Danville home in 1996, a day after school officials ultimately suspended him from teaching at JM and told him he was being investigated by Moraga police for alleged misconduct with students. His body was found with his pickup truck at the base of a cliff off Highway 1 in Big Sur several days later. No suicide note was ever found.

In a strange twist that rocked the close-knit district, the Witters case dovetailed with reports of abuse that surfaced after a former JM student detailed her trauma at the hands of another teacher  -- -- in 1996 and '97.

Correa was convicted on multiple felony counts of lewd and lascivious acts with a minor and sentenced to eight years in prison last year after she was taped making incriminating statements during a telephone conversation with her accuser.

Crowley May 31, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Sorry, but even the cases of the almost-adult kid and teachers have negative repercussions. The teachers are adults and mentors who should not violate that trust the district and community places on them. They are professionals who should never, ever cross the line. Period. No exceptions. if they can't handle it, they need to quit. Or wait until the kid is an adult.
Crowley May 31, 2012 at 01:48 PM
I hope the current district's personnel's willingness to open the records and discuss this shows that they are going to do the right thing by our kids going forward. This case is horrifying, not just in the abuse, but in the administration's willingness to look the other way. Such behavior creates a climate in which kids are less willing to come forward (because they think no one cares) and abusers feel that they can easily get away with such things. The middle school age is so touch because parents are supposed to be letting go, letting their kids figure out how to navigate dealing with their classes and teachers on their own, but then the kids are faced with this? What a nightmare.
Crowley May 31, 2012 at 02:03 PM
whoops..."middle school age is so *tough*"
natalie johns May 31, 2012 at 02:12 PM
Yes. Let's let the people RESPONSIBLE for keeping children safe from predatory teachers INVESTIGATE THEMSELVES. Makes perfect sense to me. Sometimes I wonder if people in Moraga are on some sort of hallucinogen.
Harry Jenkins May 31, 2012 at 02:14 PM
RG - Read the AP series.
natalie johns May 31, 2012 at 03:38 PM
A more appropriate headline might be ---- FOX GUARDS HEN HOUSE, FOX SAYS THANKS!
Harry Jenkins May 31, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Where is the "like" button or "thumbs-up" button? Because your comment is A+.
MYRNA lARSEN May 31, 2012 at 04:22 PM
The district didn't willingly open the record to the newspaper. It is a law that they MUST open their records, and I personally know that the paper had a very difficult time obtaining such. Another interesting side of this whole thing is that the district said they will investigate this issue but hasn't the Times already done that?
Debbie Ruiter May 31, 2012 at 04:50 PM
34% of the students at JM report that they do not feel safe. Even scarier is that 58% are afraid to report. This us indicative of a problem with the CURRENT school climate. My daughter has been horrifically bullied since 5th grade at both CP and JM. Whether it is sexual abuse or emotional abuse through bullying/ harassment the scars left behind are long lasting. A school climate committee was formed and an anti bullying policy was put in place. The school climate committee is made up of administrators and teachers yet does not have parents or students. Our anti bullying policy is only effective if it is followed by the adminstration. A positive school climate change starts with the principal on down. When problems are identified, transparency by the school is needed, documentation should be required and victims be respected. Until these are done I would say many of the same problems with the school's administration exist today. While the problems today may be different than what was originally reported the indifference toward the victim and the benign neglect is still the same! While we gave a district anti bullying policy in place it is just paper unless our school administrations are willing to follow it
pegb12 May 31, 2012 at 07:56 PM
Very well said...
Ryan May 31, 2012 at 08:04 PM
This action by the district is not something to be applauded. This investigation and trial have gone on for 2+ years and the district knew of the allegations when the victim came forward. When this explosive development was laid out for them and requests for records were made, did they open an investigation then? We're they concerned if this was happening in their current school and that possibly due to negligent policies and procedures that another teacher might be out there abusing their students? When the 20+ CURRENT and former teachers showed up in force, some taking school time off, to support the child molester did the district reprimand those teachers or show that they would not condone such actions? NO NO and NO. This current district admin's walked into this mess and decided to lay low and hope no one noticed. They could of acted when the info was brought to their attention, they could of taken the hard steps to bring it to light, and investigate this on their own as if they cared deeply about the safety of their students and legacy of their school. This whole cover up and inaction is a black mark on all who were in administration and those who knew and decided "It's not my problem". Walters should not be allowed to ride off into the sunset on his pension that I will help pay for when his inaction directly impacted students by not taking those monsters away and allowing them to rape after the allegations came to light.
MYRNA lARSEN June 02, 2012 at 07:20 PM
Correa, Witters, and Merrick were married so I don't think the marital status means anything.
apeuroftw June 03, 2012 at 08:42 PM
Did you know that 70% of all statistics are made up on the spot by 64% of people that produce false statistics 54% of the time they produce them.
lovelafayette June 04, 2012 at 02:42 PM
DANIEL BORENSTEIN CCT 6/3/12 is correct, 'they don't get it." and Myrna is correct, MSD did not "willingly" cooperate. http://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_20768997/daniel-borenstein-culture-that-enabled-teacher-sexual-abuses?source=most_viewed The responses to a very heartfelt letter to Patch from a Moraga parent [ http://lamorinda.patch.com/articles/letters-moragan-questions-moraga-school-district-practices] make it seem like a lot of ostriches have kids in school in Moraga today: "drumming up drama, fanning the flames, unproductive adult behavior,witch hunt, no cabal of bad actors....terms used by posters to convince the community to move on and look forward to a bright future with Burns and the Correa supporters teaching their kids, Waters retiring.
Therese Meuel June 05, 2012 at 12:56 AM
My daughter is a now a freshman at Campo but started at Rheem in kindergarten. While I agree there are incidents of bullying and I've heard of girls in fist fights on the JM campus I must say that my one experience with the "new" anti-bullying policy was a joke! My sister went to the school in a limo to take my daughter and her friends out for her birthday. From what my sister reported Mr Cairns head amlost expolded....apparently it's bullying behaviour if you don't include everyone. Really, she was supposed to nvite the entire school out in a limo for her birthday?(just an FYI it's not something I would have done for her birthday but I thought it would be fun for her and harmless) Like a lot of "policies" at the middle school, that one seemd a little ludicrous to me...
lovelafayette June 11, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Go give the school board an earful ! June 12, 2012 Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School Auditorium 1010 Camino Pablo, Moraga, CA 94556 7:30 p.m. Regular Meeting Dexter Louie, President; Charles MacNulty, Vice President Kym Leserman, Member; Dennis Kelleher, Member; Kathy Ranstrom. Member
Shon Sherwood June 11, 2012 at 10:33 PM
Hey all, I was researching the school board the other day: turns out recent elections aren't always contested. Maybe you should run and "burn their house down" as it's said.
2nd Generation Moraga June 11, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Asking reasonable questions of our volunteer elected officials is an excellent exercise of the democratic process. The approaches described in the two posts above border on the Red-Scare days... I would hope that the adults attending the meeting would exercise restraint, and ask intelligent probing questions regarding the specifics of the investigation - not simply rant (as some posters have done), screeching for the head of all tangentially involved.
David Holden June 11, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Anyone who simply rants or screeches should be escorted from the room. If you can't address the school board in a professional manner you are a disturbance.
lovelafayette June 12, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Yes, a recall election with a full slate of concerned parents running against the entire dysfunctional sitting board would bring fresh air to a board that is full of hot air and broken promises.
Pat June 12, 2012 at 07:42 AM
apeuroftw is 100% correct. Middle school kids enjoy messing around with surveys like this, stats were exaggerated, admitted by several students afterwards (typical middle school risky/goofy decision making behaviors) We have found the current principal and staff take bullying very seriously. Anti-bullying program is continually being examined for improvements, and all programs are helping create safety awareness, and reporting opportunities - all a good thing. Rare, but sometimes the programs are abused by savvy kids. This past year at least 1 student falsely reported bullying actions,with the anonymous reporting plan in place, that enabled her to do so. Admin takes all reports seriously, so it made it more difficult to determine who was the real "victim" (the accuser or accused?) Overtime behavior patterns emerged, and more students "felt safe" enough to bring the truth out about the false accuser. In our experiences, JM has been very proactive regarding anti-bullying, implements a safe student ambassador program, and other leadership programs to promote student safety. Sorry to hear about your daughter's challenges - wish you the best, and hope she finds support and a productive way to get through and enjoy school.
2nd Generation Moraga June 22, 2012 at 08:33 PM
@Congodog Fritz: again we find common ground! ANYONE enabling the behavior of a pedophile should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Ryan June 22, 2012 at 09:04 PM
2G - The MSD and Superintendent found out two years ago (supposedly) that Walters was an enabler and allowed him to continue guiding an elementary school for 2 years after his role as chief enabler was discovered. Would they be consider enablers of an enabler since the enabler in question was never punished or prosecuted?
2nd Generation Moraga June 22, 2012 at 09:14 PM
@McGruff: If there was an "actionable" crime committed, the Contra Costa DA would have brought charges. As no charges were brought, it appears there was no actionable crime committed. I stand by my belief that anyone convicted of enabling a pedophile should be prosecuted to "the fullest extent of the law" - which is a different standard than what the frenzied community may desire.
Ryan June 22, 2012 at 09:38 PM
Seems pretty actionable to me much like how the AG filed 23 counts against Correa. A failure of MPD for not enforcing the law as written: From the CC times article: "From the earliest version of California's child abuse reporting laws, it was a (misdemeanor) criminal offense for teachers, school administrators and other mandated reporters to fail to report suspected child abuse," wrote William Grimm, senior attorney with the Oakland-based National Center for Youth Law, in an e-mail. "Attaching a criminal sanction to the failure to report indicates how important the Legislature viewed this duty to suspected victims of abuse. The failure to enforce the reporting laws likely has led to countless children going unprotected, suffering repeated abuse, and left their abusers free to victimize other children." Kristen Cunnane, who was raped repeatedly by Correa over a three-year period, believes Correa -- who is serving an eight-year prison term -- could have been charged with failure to report allegations that Witters kissed female students, even licking one girl's ear. She documented the accounts in a memo to Walters, but neither Correa nor Walters reported anything to police. "If she had been arrested she would have been stopped," the Walnut Creek 30-year-old and Cal women's assistant swim coach said. "It would have also sent a message to me about the safety of coming forward."
2nd Generation Moraga June 22, 2012 at 09:48 PM
@McGruff: Unless you work in the DA's office, your opinion is simply your opinion. I'm going to go out a on limb and suggest that the District Attorney's office WOULD have brought charges against ANYONE that they believed was guilty of a crime related to this case. The fact that they have not pursued a criminal case against anyone other than Correa says a lot to this citizen. Again - "the fullest extent of the law" - is often a different standard than what the frenzied community may desire. Thankfully, that is why we have laws and not mob rule.
Ryan June 22, 2012 at 09:59 PM
be careful, that limb you are climbing out on seems shaky and broken to me. They can't pursue charges now because the statue of limitations has expired. They did not pursue a case against the enablers in 96' because the MPD did not bring them a case to review. The DA's office cannot pick and choose what crimes to prosecute, the Police departments have to build that case first then the DA determines what charges to bring. Just my opinion but you can take a book of law's word for it if you like. Also, the DA's office did not bring charges against Correa, the AG did. Due to a conflict of interest. Also, where is this frenzied mob you speak of? I was at the commons yesterday and didn't see many pitchforks and people burning at the stake which was surprising. Maybe they are all at RLP protesting those pesky dogs.
2nd Generation Moraga June 22, 2012 at 10:16 PM
McGruff: All the answers are in your post. "The fullest extent of the law" - is often a different standard than what the frenzied community may desire. I'd love to go back and convict everyone that got off, unfortunately the "law" doesn't allow for that. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Fritz 'Congodog' Stoop June 23, 2012 at 01:12 AM
I am 'zero tolerant' about crimes against children. I will accept psychological explanations that may have contributed to the perpetrator's perverse behavior, but only as evidence in the sentencing phase of their trial. They must be initially treated as if they were suspected carriers of the Ebola Virus or some such deadly contagion, that is removed from contact with children immediately. If the damning information is at all credible, willful delays make those that fail to act accessories. Support, treatment and decisions regarding the suspect's future can all take place after the children are protected. The presumption of innocence is a powerful philosophical symbol of free democratic society, but the handling of crimes against innocence must trump this presumption. There is just to much at stake and at risk when the little ones are involved. That this principal was not removed and allowed to retire with full benefits is an outrage. Surely even people without children can comprehend this.
lovelafayette June 25, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Does anyone know if the decision not to charge anyone ( statute of limitations) was made by MPD or the DA? All I have read attributes the decision to MPD. MPD is part of the problem as from all accounts their investigation died when Witters died, MPD did not look for other victims of sexual abuse or charge Walters. MPD may have a conflict of interest here, they failed to investigate in 1996/7 and it is possible a DA investigation now will fault MPD, so is MPD really motivated to pursue this? Moraga parents need to file complaints with the DA asking CCC to investigate possible conspiracies and chlld endangerment against Walters/MSD/MPD. William Lynn was just convicted for covering up child sexual abuse by Catholic priests UNDER HIS SUPERVISION, MANY years ago, guilty of child endangerment and conspiracy. The timelines in previous posts point to conspiracy by supervisors: Walters calling Witter instead of MPD, MPD killing the case after Witter died? Several years ago I tried to file a police report about a criminal unlicensed contractor with Lafayette PD, the officer refused to take my report saying in HIS opinion no crime had been committed! I called the CCC DA, who charged him WITHIN 72 HOURS with felonies and obtained his guilty plea ( to lesser charges) . Moraga parents cannot let the MSD and MPD get in the way of justice, again.

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