A sexual abuse lawsuit was filed Aug. 28 against The Bishop’s School in La Jolla and the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego by a former student alleging two years of abuse by a teacher while he was a student at the school in the 1990s.
The recent suit comes after the 2018 discovery of more than a dozen other alleged incidents of sexual misconduct, which took place over the span of 30 years.
The latest lawsuit alleges that plaintiff John H. Doe was repeatedly sexually molested and harassed by a female computer sciences teacher beginning when he was a 16-year-old student (she was 32 years old at the time).
The suit names the charges as sexual harassment; sexual battery; assault; gender violence; negligence; negligent supervision; negligent hiring/retention; negligent failure to warn, train or educate; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and constructive fraud.
The alleged abuse included, but was not limited to, hand holding, flirting, touching, fondling, oral sex, and sexual intercourse on the Bishop’s School campus, at the teacher’s house, at a local hotel, at a local restaurant, at a local park, and across various other San Diego area locations. The teacher is no longer listed as an employee of The Bishop’s School.
According to the lawsuit, the teacher would bring the Plaintiff into the computer lab, with the windows covered and the door locked, and subject him to sexual acts. On multiple occasions, teachers and a Bishop’s administrator saw John H. Doe and the teacher exiting the computer lab together, with no other person in the room.
“This was preventable and there were warning signs and the School did not do all it could have to protect this young boy,” John H. Doe’s attorney Alex Cunny told La Jolla Light.
Cunny has litigated against school districts, charter schools, the Catholic Church, private boarding schools, national universities, National Governing Bodies, childcare institutions and medical practices.
The plaintiff is seeking damages “in an amount to be determined by trial,” according to the suit, but Cunny told La Jolla Light, “Ultimately, my client wants the school to reformed so students will never again be abused like he was and go through what he did that. One of the only ways to do that is hold the institution accountable in a court of law.”
Cunny said the most recent allegations indicate, “There were multiple abusers and multiple victims over the decades, which goes to show this is a systemic problem at the school -- not just a one-time, one-perpetrator situation.”
In 2017, The Bishop’s School began an investigation into sexual misconduct when an alumna disclosed her “experience of sexual assault committed many decades ago by a former, now deceased, member of the school staff,” according to a letter from the school.
The alumna, who spoke with La Jolla Light on the condition of anonymity, said she engaged in what was then viewed as a sexual relationship with a teacher in the 1980s.
“When I attended Bishop’s, there were multiple students who had relations with faculty. I was not alone,” she said in an e-mail.
The School then hired Jennifer Branch, Esq. to investigate the report.
In 2018, The Bishop’s School issued a letter disclosing that seven alumni had come forward and described 15 separate incidents, five of which were first-hand accounts of sexual misconduct or a “boundary violation” committed by a school employee from the 1970s to the 1990s, following a year-long investigation.
As of May of this year, attorney Branch confirmed 14 alumni had come forward to report incidents of sexual misconduct. The reports are of misconduct occurring as far back as 1972 with the most recent reported misconduct occurring in 1998.
During the course of the investigation, the school issued a letter to alumni to share their stories in 2018.
John H. Doe comes forward
When that letter went out, John H. Doe reflected on his experience at Bishop’s, and started attending therapy.
“In summer 2018, my client started putting the pieces together,” Cunny said. “He attended therapy to come to terms with what happened to him and realized he needed to come forward and seek justice. Generally speaking, survivors of child sexual abuse face issues with those in authority, emotional issues, anxiety, and that is what he has been dealing with and he is dealing with that now.
“He is trying to move through that and the hope is, over time, he would not wipe these memories clean, but be able to exist and move forward.”
Plaintiff John H. Doe said: “I have chosen to keep my name private as is the right of every victim of child sexual assault in California. My message to other victims of abuse at the Bishop’s School is -- contact law enforcement. Hold your abuser accountable. Protect other children. Your privacy will be respected, and you will be believed.”
New Head of School response
Earlier this year, The Bishop’s School appointed Ron Kim as its 12th head of school. Kim comes from Philip Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he, too, had to address the discovery of sexual misconduct. Exeter Academy learned in 2016, while Kim was assistant head of school, the misconduct reportedly took place in the 1970s.
Prior to the news of the most recent Bishop’s School allegations, the Light asked Kim how his experience would guide his decision-making when accusations of misconduct arise.
“What we learned at Exeter is that there were times when students were not taken care of as well as they needed to be, their well-being was not of the highest priority,” he said. “On one end, we need to make sure that good rules, training and accountability are in place; on the other end, there needs to be a culture of care for the students and to make sure if and when something comes up that we are concerned about, we know how to identify concerns, the next steps to take and that everyone is in a position to act on every concern they see. But I think there’s a different level of vigilance about these issues today, and a different standard of care than existed before.”
Responding to the lawsuit, Bishop’s School representatives told the Light: “As you know, The Bishop’s School is fully committed to the safety and well-being of all students past and present,” and directed the Light to a letter that was issued earlier this year with School’s policy on reporting abuse.
“Our School today focuses on both academic excellence and student well-being,” the letter reads. “Fostering students’ social and emotional growth is a vital component of our work as educators. Part of this is exhibited by our deep commitment to safety and preventive actions to protect against sexual misconduct. The School has multiple safeguards in place to protect our students, and we will continue to dedicate all the necessary resources.
“The layered safeguards create a culture in which everyone in our community understands the expectations regarding their behavior. We encourage and empower our community and in many cases, require them to step forward and share concerns they may have directly with the School or through our anonymous hotline lighthouse-services.com/bishops, by telephone at (833) 940-0002 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
“Everyone at Bishop’s has a voice that will be listened to and respected.”
— La Jolla Light is following this unfolding story and will file updated reports as the litigation progresses.