Lucia Mar School District must do more to protect students

May 29, 2022

Gary Joralemon

OPINION by GARY JORALEMON

During the 2016-17 school year, a nine-year-old child with special educational needs was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a bus driver employed by the Lucia Mar Unified School District. The child was the sole passenger on the bus. The assaults took place while the child was being transported to and from a special school program in San Luis Obispo.

There were two key pieces of evidence which led to a conviction. First, the driver would deviate from his usual route and park in secluded areas so that he could assault the child away from any witnesses. These route deviations were determined by reviewing a GPS unit on the bus.

Second, video cameras on the bus indicated criminal behavior. Following a lengthy legal process, in which LMUSD aggressively defended their actions, the child’s family was awarded $10 million in damages.

When I initially heard about this case, I was saddened and shocked. These emotions quickly turned to raw anger the more I learned. First, Lucia Mar hired the driver, an individual responsible for the care and safety of children knowing he had a misdemeanor disorderly conduct conviction for “peeping into a building.”

Second, a transportation supervisor failed to report information regarding alleged child abuse, despite being a mandated child abuse reporter.

Third, when the matter was brought to her attention by the victim’s family, the supervisor reportedly either failed to review the video tapes from the bus or saw something of concern and decided to not report it.

This tragedy will surely alter the trajectory of this child’s life in ways we can only imagine. Sadly, with basic steps in due diligence, it could have been avoided. Here is how:

1. Lucia Mar buses are equipped with video cameras, which in this case provided key evidence. However, video cameras are of little use if regular “video audits” aren’t conducted. These audits are critical in seeing the “red flag” warnings that often are associated with child sex abuse cases.

2. Lucia Mar buses are also equipped with GPS devices. Again, these devices are of little use if they aren’t routinely checked to ensure that buses aren’t deviating from their predetermined routes.

3. Mandated reporters (school personnel, medical providers, childcare workers, etc.) are required by law to report any suspected child abuse to the Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services Unit. Failing to do so is a misdemeanor. School staff should be reminded of this and their responsibilities in protecting students on an ongoing basis.

4. Lucia Mar hired the the driver knowing about his criminal history. Some misdemeanors can be attributed to youthful indiscretion. Peering into a building is not a mere “indiscretion,” but a clear warning that the subject should not be allowed anywhere near children. Delineating what misdemeanors are acceptable, and which disqualify an applicant for employment can go a long way in avoiding a similar situation in the future.

Unfortunately, the Lucia Mar Unified School District is not the only school district facing the challenge of staff sexual abuse. Thus far in 2022, at least 132 school staff have been charged with sexually assaulting students nation-wide. (FOX Education News, May 19, 2022).

Equally unfortunate is that this is the third time in eighteen years that a Lucia Mar staff member has been charged and sentenced to jail or prison for sexually assaulting a student (NOTE: In 2020, the LMUSD reached a $1.25 million settlement with three students who were allegedly sexually and physically abused by a girls wrestling coach. In a subsequent investigation, the Sheriff’s Office recommended the coach be charged. The District Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges).

All four of these cases were avoidable. Children didn’t need to be traumatized and abused, and Lucia Mar didn’t need to pay out millions of dollars in civil settlements.

Only time will tell the degree of emotional trauma the victims of these crimes will experience. While we can’t alter the past, Lucia Mar can and must do more in ensuring the safety of its students.

Gary Joralemon is a retired Deputy Chief Probation Officer and Juvenile Hall Superintendent, and university criminal justice instructor.

Send a response or your own opinion to velieslo@gmail.com.


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sharshofar

Thank you Gary for reminding us, we must as tax payers and concerned citizens hold these involved hIring and overseeing Lucia Mar employees accountable, at the very least they should lose their jobs. Several school board members are up for re-election not one running deserves my vote. We must pay attention our children are looking to us to be watchmen over their safety. Let your vote count in November please.


shishkabob141

VOTE. THEM. OUT!


kayaknut

Now if school districts would reduce administration salaries they could pay for additional security, along with getting rid of those that have failed the children.