Update. 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, link added below to Student Safety Committee information.
The vice president of the Moraga school district on Tuesday night delivered a message of apology and determination that "ensuring the safety of children will be the cornerstone of what we do as long as we are a district."
The governing board had a long closed session discussing one lawsuit and two claims alleging the district could have done more to prevent sexual abuse of students in the 1990s. Afterward, in public session, Vice President Charles MacNulty announced "a positive development" — that all parties, including the insurance company representing the school district, have agreed to mediation of the two claims and the lawsuit by Kristen Cunnane of Walnut Creek, a student at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School in the 1990s. The parties enter into mediation "with optimism and a spirit of cooperation," Macnulty said.
Also in public session, MacNulty soberly addressed a crowd of about 75 people at the Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School auditorium.
"Our district, our board, are deeply sorry for what happened to the students in our care 10 years ago," said Macnulty. "These children were entrusted to us and were sexually assaulted by our employees."
It was "painful and disturbing," Macnulty added.
MacNulty also apologized to Cunnane and the public for the district including in its initial documents responding to the lawsuit "inappropriate" defenses that indicated the victim may have some responsibility for the abuse she suffered as a teenager in the 1990s. It was "a terrible mistake," Macnulty said: "We have never believed that victims of abuse bear a responsibility for the abuse that they suffered."
MacNulty was presiding after last week's sudden resignation of board President Dexter Louie for unspecified reasons.
Ryan Cunnane of Walnut Creek, brother-in-law of Kristen Cunnane, urged the board to be diligent in protecting children by gathering information on the mistakes of the past. "You can't move forward without figuring out what happened, what went wrong," he said. Then, the board and the district can close the "loopholes," he said.
After MacNulty's public apology, the board unanimously approved a district policy that is stronger than the state penal code, board member Dennis Kelleher said, on procedures of mandated reporting of suspected abuse. In this policy, if two or more staff members jointly have knowledge of suspected abuse, all of those parties are required to report it to the appropriate agency.
That policy came recommended by the district's Student Safety Committee, which made a presentation to the governing board Tuesday. Student The Safety Committee has met a half-dozen times since the summer. The committee has made a lot of progress in steering by two guiding principles, said Jim Obsitnik:
- zero tolerance of threats to safety.
- a belief that the committee should continue to meet indefinitely.
This fall, all school staff either sat in on a two-hour workshop on child abuse reporting or did a four-hour online training held in conjunction with the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Contra Costa County, Obsitnik said. Refresher training will be offered.
The committee has established a student safety reference section on the school district website with directions on what to do when child abuse is suspected, said committee leader Rebecca Eyrich. A copy of the Student Safety Committee's report for the Tuesday meeting is attached to this story.
The committee held parent workshops on school safety in August and October, and plans on having more workshops in the winter and spring, said Eyrich.
The committee is also surveying district employees to get information on potential barriers to reporting abuse, said Eyrich. Macnulty applauded that effort, saying he was anxious to hear what those barriers are.