by Susie Steimle
SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — A former Bay Area high school teacher and coach is being accused of sexually assaulting students while administrators turned a blind eye, allowing the alleged conduct to continue.
Over two dozen female students at John O’Connell High School in San Francisco have come forward to accuse physical education teacher and soccer coach Bob Gamino of inappropriate behavior.
Documents also show school officials knew about the allegations two years ago and did nothing about it.
Alysha Stone is the former captain of San Francisco’s John O’Connell High School girls soccer team.
Just before graduating last May, Stone said she made one of the hardest decisions of her life: she reported her Coach Gamino for sexual assault.
“There would be times when I would be injured, so I had to sit on the bench. And he would like put his hand on my thigh,” remembered Stone.
It took her a whole school year to come forward. Stone said it started with verbal harassment in the fall.
“Like, ‘Oh, you look beautiful today.’ Or ‘Oh, you have a great body,'” said Stone. “And I was, like, those aren’t things you normally say to a student.”
Months later, she said the harassment turned physical.
“He like grabbed right under my breast on top of my ribcage and like, why would you grab there?” said Stone.
Gamino was a teacher in San Francisco public schools for 23 years, for the majority of that time he was a P.E. teacher, soccer coach and — more recently –an athletic director at O’Connell High School.
Students told KPIX 5 his door was always open and that many thought of him as a father figure, which made it that much harder to turn him in.
Another student, who chose to remain anonymous, reported Gamino to the school in May.
“He passed me and grabbed my butt and then just walked away,” the student explained. “I thought it was an accident. Then it sunk in that it wasn’t.”
Still, it took the anonymous victim some time to report the incident.
“When you know him so long he built up such a relationship that you feel like he’s a family member, and you can’t report your family member, the student said. “You can’t do that. You feel really guilty.”
That was when the district put Gamino on administrative leave and launched an internal investigation.
Documents from the district confirm that 30 girls came forward reporting Gamino verbally or physically assaulted them that year.
Upper classmen began warning incoming student athletes about Gamino before the abuse took place.
“Gamino has like a type of personality that girls should watch out for, basically saying he came off as a perv,” said Stone.
“It had been known for so long that he had been doing these things — especially the women at the school — they were like, ‘Yeah that’s how he is,'” said the anonymous student.
Students said Gamino worked to gain their trust, often developing a relationship with them and waiting a full year before taking action.
“It kind of hurt my feelings. I wouldn’t say betrayed, but hurt my trust,” said Stone.
When KPIX 5 first approached the San Francisco Unified School District about Gamino, reporters were told this wasn’t any of our business.
“Even if you could tell me those things, things that are confidential personnel matters are not a matter of public record unless they are of concern,” said SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe.
So KPIX 5 filed a public records request.
Documents from the district’s internal investigation indicated the school knew about Gamino’s behavior two years ago and did nothing.
Records showed “upper classmen began to forewarn younger students about his conduct” and “some female students indicated they had stopped dressing for PE or foregone playing soccer in order to avoid Gamino”.
After being told that students were warned each other about Gamino and going out of their way to protect each other, KPIX 5 asked Blythe but what adults did to address the issue.
Blythe replied, “I think what you’re saying concerns the district as well.”
In a second interview with the district after KPIX 5 obtained the documents, Blythe said it was O’Connell’s former principal Mark Alvarado who failed to take the appropriate steps.
Documents revealed long before Stone and her classmates came forward, Alvarado had “admonished Gamino for inappropriately touching two African-American female students two years ago.”
The district said it didn’t know about the earlier warning because Alvarado didn’t report Gamino’s alleged activity to the district, allowing Gamino to keep working at the school, often spending time alone with female students.
According to documents, Gamino “denied the most serious allegations against him, however admitted making at least some of the inappropriate comments acknowledging ‘in hindsight’ he should have acted differently.”
When asked if she thought the school district did everything it could have to protect these kids given the fact that there was a history students knew, Blythe replied, “I think we could have done more because this happened.”
Meanwhile students said the district never encouraged them to talk to police.
When KPIX 5 asked Stone if police were involved, Stone said, “Not that I know of.”
When asked if she was told to go to police, Gamino’s anonymous victim replied, “No, we weren’t told to go to police. I didn’t know what to do in this situation at all.”
Gamino voluntarily retired this summer, keeping his full health benefits and salary from the district.
KPIX 5 stopped by his home multiple times, but he never came to the door.
The district has yet to reach out to parents or previous students who Gamino allegedly targeted with harassment at the school to inform them of the investigation.
“If he can get away with it, who else can get away with it?” asked the anonymous student. “I think the district does need to apologize and talk to students and teachers and say, ‘We’re doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again.'”
KPIX 5 did speak with Bob Gamino very briefly over the phone at the start of this investigation. During that conversation, Gamino said he chose to retire.
He also said he would consider going back to coaching or teaching at some point. Because he hasn’t been charged there’s no legal reason he can’t do that at this time.
A San Francisco police spokesperson told KPIX 5 the allegations against Gamino were being investigated.
Alvarado was moved to Everett Middle School in response to his failure to report Gamino. He still holds an administrative position there.
Failing to report the abuse of a student is a crime, but at this time, Alvarado was not facing charges.