Former student sues The Bishop’s School over allegations of past sexual abuse by teacher

The Bishop's School is at 7607 La Jolla Blvd. in La Jolla.
(File / La Jolla Light)

The Bishop’s School in La Jolla has been sued by a former student over allegations of sexual misconduct by a teacher while the student was a minor during the 1970s and ‘80s.

The suit, filed in November in San Diego County Superior Court, alleges offenses including sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. The unidentified plaintiff seeks damages “in an amount to be determined at trial.” A trial date has not been set.

The suit accuses the plaintiff’s former teacher of inappropriate sexual behavior — including “grooming” her from the time she was 12 years old up to their sexual encounters when she was 17 — and accuses the school of covering up the teacher’s actions and creating an environment that allowed it to continue.

Bishop’s School spokeswoman Keri Peckham said she “cannot comment on pending litigation” but said the school is “always concerned when someone alleges abuse while they were a student at our school.”

The attorney representing the former teacher, who is not identified by name in the complaint, told ABC10-TV that “we categorically deny the allegations in the complaint.”

The suit states that “between at least 1978 to in or around 1983, plaintiff alleges … that [the teacher] worked as an academic advisor and photography instructor at [The Bishop’s School]. The sexual assaults perpetrated upon the plaintiff as a child were the result of a ‘cover-up’ or a concerted effort to hide evidence relating to childhood sexual assault.”

Specifically, “[the school and its staff] engaged in conduct to conceal the sexually inappropriate behavior of [the teacher] and to hide facts from the plaintiff which would have apprised the plaintiff, her family and those who could have intervened in [the teacher’s] abusive behavior (including but not limited to law enforcement, administrative authorities and child protective agencies) and prevented the plaintiff’s sexual assault as a child.”

The plaintiff’s attorney, Taylor Boren, told the La Jolla Light: “There are clearly cultural and endemic problems at The Bishop’s School, not just my client’s individual experience. … My client is hoping to bring to light the sexual battery she endured and the environment that allowed this to occur in the first place. The abuse and the environment are sources of our client’s pain and suffering.”

In 2017, a Bishop’s School alumna described her “experience of sexual assault … by a member of the school staff,” launching a year-long investigation by the school. Following the investigation, The Bishop’s School issued a letter disclosing that it had discovered 15 incidents of sexual misconduct that took place over 30 years.

The school told ABC10 this week that “The Bishop’s School takes these matters very seriously and has openly communicated with our community members, making clear that any incident of sexual misconduct by a school employee against a student, past or present, is intolerable. We have proactively encouraged alumni to come forward if they experienced or were aware of sexual abuse or misconduct while attending the school, providing a 24/7 anonymous reporting line and email address. An independent investigation was conducted and its results communicated to our community members and shared with local law enforcement. We remain deeply grateful for those alumni who had the courage to come forward and share their stories.”

The plaintiff in the new lawsuit participated in the investigation, Boren said, but with no resolution. “Bishop’s communicated with her extensively, ripping open old wounds and stirring up all the pain and suffering she encountered, then left her with no restitution,” he said.

Boren says his client couldn’t pursue civil litigation until last year when a new law changed the statute of limitations.

His firm also represented another former student in a child sexual abuse suit against the school that he says was settled last year for $1.4 million. The Bishop’s School confirmed to ABC10 that the matter was settled and said there was no finding or admission of wrongdoing.

Coincidentally, a similar situation was discovered at the Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire while current Bishop’s Head of School Ron Kim was assistant head of school there (the misconduct reportedly took place in the 1970s but came to light in 2016).

“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,” Kim said in September 2019 after his hiring at Bishop’s. “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.”

Founded in 1909, The Bishop’s School, at 7607 La Jolla Blvd., is an Episcopal private school. It carries an annual tuition for grades six through 12 (including meals) of $36,290, in addition to other expenses. ◆