SAN JOSE (KPIX) — Officials at a Catholic high school in San Jose on Thursday released a report investigating past sex abuse claims at the school, apologizing to past victims as they shared the results of the investigation “with heavy hearts.”
Prestigious all-girl Presentation High School in San Jose has been embroiled in the allegations of abuse by teachers for several years, with some former students claiming incidents of abuse dating back as far as the 1980s.
The allegations were further bolstered in 2017 when Presentation High graduate Kathryn Leehane wrote a Washington Post op-ed essay accusing a former Spanish teacher at the school of sexually assaulting her and a classmate in separate incidents when they were students in 1990.
Presentation High President Holly Elkins and the school’s Board of Directors launched this recently completed independent investigation last fall.
In a letter addressed to alumni, parents, students and friends of the school, issued in conjunction with the report and signed by Elkins and Board of Directors Chair Sister Pam Chiesa, school officials said, “it is with heavy hearts that we are writing to you today to share the results of the investigation.”
The letter said that investigators “received sufficient information to form a good faith belief that sexual misconduct or abuse” involving five former members of the school’s faculty as well as one former coach. The conduct in question took place between the early 1980s to 2013.
The former Presentation High faculty members and coach were listed as:
- John Fernandez (deceased), Foreign Language teacher and coach (1982-2004)
- Peggy Orozco, English teacher (1979-1983)
- Jeff House, English and Journalism teacher (1999-2004)
- Kris White, Religion Teacher and Community Involvement Coordinator (2001-2003)
- Jenna Roe, Assistant Varsity Water Polo Coach (2011-2013)
- Dave Garbo, English teacher (2006-2017)
“Misconduct reported encompassed a wide variety of inappropriate acts, including sexual abuse, grooming, touching, kissing, groping, inappropriate fraternization, and other boundary-crossing interactions with students,” the letter stated.
Officials also said the report showed instances where school officials — specifically former Heads of School Mary Miller and Marian Stuckey — were notified of possible sexual misconduct and took little or no action. The letter also included a lengthy apology to former students impacted by the abuse.
“To the survivors of abuse, we deeply and sincerely apologize. The stark truth is that our school did not live up to its commitment to protect you. We added further harm when we responded defensively when reports of past abuse began to surface in 2017,” the letter accompanying the release of the report read.
The apology by school officials continued: “We understand that words cannot measure our regret or erase the harm that you endured. You were hurt, and we can only hope to make amends by caring for you now and doing everything within our power to ensure that students now and in the future will be cared for and safe.”
School officials said that they have shared the report appropriate law enforcement, including the San Jose Police Department in addition to the San Jose Diocese and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the survivors of abuse as well as any known current employers of the individuals who conducted sexual abuse or misconduct.
Esther Peralez-Dieckmann who is the executive director for Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence in San Jose, said her non-profit organization has helped the school try to change its culture. She said they’ve also received funding from a campus group that serves the community.
“While this was a very painful part of their history, the school has actually done a lot of good work,” Peralez-Dieckmann said. “We’ve been asked to come to campus to talk to young women, that’s what we want to do, we want to create an environment where young women feel comfortable.”
The school has also enacted a new records retention policy, removed any public honor or recognition of the faculty members involved in the abuse as well as the two named former Heads of School.
“I think they’ve started the journey in terms of looking at their own systems, you know, how do we support young women who make these allegations,” Peralez-Dieckmann said.