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Readers respond to CBS report on sexual abuse scandal at Redlands Unified

Survey shows parents, residents want more accountability and more training

School bus stop sign. Getty Images Signature.

Survey shows parents, residents want more accountability and more training

REDLANDS, Calif. - Last month, an explosive CBS report highlighted Redlands Unified as one of the worst school districts in the country for incidents of sexual abuse of children.

Local media has followed the story for years, but the Pledge of Silence told victims' stories side-by-side on a national stage for the first time. The report ignited renewed interest in how the District has responded to the crisis.

Over the last decade, Redlands Unified has paid out more than $41 million in settlements over allegations of teacher sexual abuse in 23 cases. The CBS report details cases of sexual abuse by teachers and the District’s attempts to protect its employees.

In 2018, RUSD took steps to address the problem. A 2021 San Bernardino County Grand Jury report outlined the new protocols put in place to identify and report sexual predators and prevent child abuse, including:

  • On-going Keenan Training for teachers to understand mandated reporting and signs of abuse.
  • Quadrant monitoring, where school administrators walk and observe every area of the school daily.
  • Hall passes are to be issued by office staff only.
  • The ACT Now Initiative, "See something? Hear something? Sense something? Say something," was rolled out in 2018.
  • The District adopted a new "Professional Adult/Student Boundaries" policy in November 2018.

The CBS report notes that the problem of sexual abuse of students is a nationwide problem. However, RUSD is just one of 145 public school districts being investigated by the US Department of Education for violations of Title IV Sexual Violence. In California, RUSD is one of six public school districts under investigation.

The Response

Following the CBS report, parents and students protested outside the Redlands school board meeting on April 25. During the meeting, dozens brought up their concerns about the District’s handling of sexual misconduct by teachers.

Then, on Friday, April 28, the California Department of Justice announced plans to visit Redlands and investigate "the District's handling of allegations of sex discrimination and sexual harassment."

Community Forward Redlands surveyed readers to understand the impact of the CBS report. We also asked readers to share their perceptions of the crisis and what they think needs to be done to prevent sexual abuse of students in the future.

In this newsletter, we will explore the survey results and look at potential solutions offered by respondents.

5 key takeaways from survey about Redlands Unified sexual abuse scandal

We received survey responses from 57 readers. Most of the respondents (84%) said they are connected to RUSD as either former students or parents/grandparents of students. Here are 5 key takeaways.

1. The Pledge of Silence was not a surprise

Nearly eight-in-ten survey responders (77%) have watched the CBS report. For most readers, the CBS News report was not the first time they had heard about the District's sex abuse scandal. Most respondents reported they heard either "a lot" (60%) or "a little" (38%) about sexual abuse/misconduct at Redlands Unified School District in recent years.

Forms response chart. Question title: Before the CBS documentary, how much have you heard about the sexual abuse/misconduct at Redlands Unified School District in recent years?
. Number of responses: 57 responses.

2. The problem is ongoing

The perception is that this problem is not part of the past. A clear majority of respondents think recent news reports reflect problems that are still happening. About three-quarters of respondents (75%) think the recent CBS news report reflects an ongoing problem, while far fewer (25%) think it represents things from the past that do not happen as much anymore.

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you think the recent CBS news report reflects an ongoing problem that is still happening or things from the past that don't happen as much anymore?. Number of responses: 57 responses.

"Talk about it. It continues to happen because when it occurs, it is shushed. Actually, have consequences for the teachers and staff. This has been going on since I was in high school in '03." - survey respondent

3. The District's response has been poor

Most of the readers who responded to the survey do not approve of the School District's response to the crisis. About seven-in-ten readers think the District's response to reports of sexual abuse of students has been "poor." While the other quarter thinks the response has been good. Of the quarter who approve of the response, most (17%) think more needs to be done.

Forms response chart. Question title: What do you think of Redlands Unified School District's response to reports of the sexual abuse of students?. Number of responses: 56 responses.

"I would like them, instead of criticizing coverage of these problems, to be the loudest voice and advocate of the community's children." -survey respondent

4. Additional steps are needed

The vast majority of respondents think more needs to be done to prevent sexual abuse by students. An overwhelming 93% of respondents answered yes when asked if the District needs to take additional steps to prevent sexual abuse/misconduct within the District.

Forms response chart. Question title: Do you think Redlands Unified School District needs to take additional steps to prevent sexual abuse/misconduct within the school district?. Number of responses: 57 responses.

Many respondents also shared ideas to help prevent sexual abuse. These responses suggest education and training programs are needed not only for teachers and staff but also for students and parents to prevent and recognize sexual abuse.

"There may need to be community teachings on consent as well to help students learn that they should never be forced/coerced into acts by someone in authority and this it is okay to say ‘no’... I have also worked in the school district and I did not have to pay attention to any of my sexual harassment training. It was simply a video put in front of me. You could easily ignore it, and that is the problem."
"They need clear guidelines on how to report, to whom, and they need training on talking to victims."
"While there has been work to educate the adults about what to look for and report and policies like the 3rd wheel approach to help minimize risks I think there could be equal value in education to the children about body autonomy as well as continued work on SEL and general inclusivity policies and support so that children are armed with self-confidence and community. "

Others suggested more thorough background checks, video monitoring on campuses, mental health services, and student awareness campaigns.

"There should be some type of soft background check. Not just through the FBI but also there should be one shared from previous districts. This is a common practice you offload a troublesome or underperforming teacher to other districts... Additional Keenan training on sexual misconduct is insufficient there should be additional training throughout the year and incentives to teachers for reporting.”
"Teach the kids how to identify grooming. No adult should be alone with a child at ANY level. Double up on adults in classrooms with teacher aids or parent volunteers."

Some respondents thought sex education was to blame for the abuse, while others suggested sexual education needs to be increased.

Many suggested fostering a culture where people feel safe reporting misconduct or suspicion and new processes to make sure reports are made and acted on.

5. Calls for accountability

According to the CBS report, no one in the RUSD administration has faced any charges or lost their jobs over their handling of teacher sexual abuse allegations.

In the case of former teacher Laura Whitehurst, the School District settled with a victim's family for $6 million dollars after Whitehurst was convicted of having sex with him and multiple other students. At the time of the settlement, it was the largest against any public entity in the country with respect to child sexual abuse. According to multiple reports, there is evidence that the District had knowledge of the relationships.

Many of the survey write-in responses call for accountability and consequences.

"Fire the current administration that was in place and allowed this to happen"

"The administrators who received reports and/or knew about these allegations and did nothing should be fired."

"Transparency and consequences for all directly or indirectly involved. Repercussions to the fullest for their actions."

"Fire leaders involved in cover-up, enact more training for STUDENTS on grooming behavior."

Another asks for an apology.

"Greater transparency, put in new procedures to ensure reports are made and acted on, take responsibility and apologize for what has happened."

What's Next

On Friday, April 28, the California Department of Justice announced it will visit two Redlands schools to meet with parents and students.

According to the letter received by RUSD families, the DOJ Bureau of Children's Justice will visit Redlands May 17 and 18 "to continue to gather information about the District's policies and practices with respect to responding to complaints of sexual abuse, assault, and harassment."

In the letter, Interim Superintendent Patrick Kelley said, "Our district hears, acknowledges, and shares our community's concerns and are committed to long-term accountability and change that leads to sustained and healthy learning environment."

Kelley encouraged families to participate in the Department of Justice Investigation into the school district. "We are asking our families and community to partner in this goal," Kelley continued.

All meetings are confidential, and district personnel will not be involved in these interviews.

Read more about the Pledge of Silence documentary.