In 1996, a four-year nightmare began for a northern California eighth-grader. Middle-school student Kristen Cunnane was sexually abused by a physical education teacher. When Cunnane turned to a science teacher for help, he also molested her.
Science teacher Daniel Witters was a known sexual predator when the school hired him in 1990, but it took no steps to protect children from him. He committed suicide in 1996 after accusations of sexual abuse began to surface.
Cunnane, a world-class swimmer, reported the abuse in 2010. Physical education teacher Julie Correa pleaded guilty to rape and sexual battery and is serving an eight-year sentence.
The Contra Costa Newspaper uncovered letters and memos indicating school officials were aware of sexual abuse and harassment at the school but did nothing. Incredibly, science teacher Witters was given the name of another girl who had accused him of molestation. No report was made to police or Child Protective Services.
Cunnane has now filed a lawsuit against the school district and the officials who failed to protect students. In response, the Moraga School District claims Cunnane that was “careless and negligent” and contributed to her ongoing sexual abuse at the hands of the teachers. They also say that Cunnane was “careless and negligent” in the matter of her own rape.
Cunnane was stunned when she received the District’s response. “It felt like I got punched in the stomach,” she said, “and I stood up and thought about how young I was when I was 12 to 13 years old at the school. For them to use words like ‘negligent’ and ‘responsible’ just broke my heart.”
In response, the school district has released a statement it has “an obligation not to waive any potential legal lines of defense.” As the case develops, it may drop the complaint against Cunnane.
Meanwhile school officials do not have to worry about criminal charges. According to police Chief Robert Priebe, there is a one-year statute of limitations for failing to fulfill one’s role as state-mandated reporter.
Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), co-written with the late Mary Mariani. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.