But California, unlike more restrictive states such as Texas, allows individuals to sue school districts, points out Pace Law School professor Emily Gold Waldman, who is chair of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Education Law.
For the suits to go forward, “they must have some sort of theory such as negligence,” she says, but there is nothing preventing the plaintiffs from attempting to assign liability to anyone such as a principal or anyone else in a supervisory position. She notes that California law has stated that school districts must “take reasonable steps to protect its students.”
The current claims involve alleged abuse that took place between 2005 and 2010. However, additional victims, some dating back to 1994, are emerging to buttress the current abuse cases. This week, police obtained 200 more photographs revealing “inappropriate” actions by one of the two teachers that have been arrested, bringing the total to some 600 so far.
New Jersey attorney Gregory Gianforcaro, who was abused by a community priest when he was a child, has litigated more than 200 child sexual abuse cases and says it’s hard to hear about cases such as this.
“This guy has been teaching there for 32 years,” he says, referring to one of the two teachers. While he respects the swift and dramatic action taken by the district this week when it replaced the entire elementary school staff, he says, “where were they for the last 32 years?”
Mr. Gianforcaro notes that statistics on pedophile behavior point to multiple offenses as the norm. “Statistics show that most pedophiles abuse an average of 117 children,” he says.
Even if the suits proceed, it is highly likely that they will result in a settlement rather than going to court, says criminal defense attorney Christopher Leibig.