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After exposé, LA County school district sued over sexual abuse allegations

Three former students of a high school in Los Angeles County's San Gabriel Valley are suing the school district over allegations they faced repeated sexual abuse by staff members who faced little to no consequences.

The lawsuit filed Monday comes several months after Business Insider published an extensive exposé on a wide-ranging set of allegations of sexual abuse at Rosemead High School — one spanning decades, involving 20 adult staff members and "ranging from lewd remarks about students' bodies to statutory rape." The series of articles, titled "The Predators' Playground," corroborated dozens of accusations through interviews and documents from the school itself — from a student's handwritten sexual harassment complaint to a letter reprimanding one teacher for making sexual innuendos. The letter simply tells him to "have better judgement." 

The former students are suing El Monte School District for what one of their lawyers described as "systemic failures" to report accusations of child sexual abuse. Given such repeated negligence in reporting misconduct, the victims are also calling for an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and the State Attorney General's.

"Sadly, this district, what they've done is they've sent out a bad signal to all perpetrators and predators and perverts that they will be saved, that they will be protected at El Monte Union High School District -- all to protect the school and not to protect children," Mike Carrillo, one of the lawyers for the victims, said during a news conference Wednesday.

The allegations set forth in the lawsuit occurred between 2005 and 2009, and they involve a teacher and two coaches, according to court filings. 

The pattern outlined by the victims and their attorneys Wednesday mirrors the one seen in "The Predators' Playground" -- a system at Rosemead High School in which sexual misconduct allegations are investigated by the school itself rather than being reported to law enforcement in accordance with state law. Carrillo said the article was instrumental in helping victims come forward.

While reports are swept under the rug, teachers and staff accused of abuse continue working and interacting with students.

The school district has not yet responded to a request for comment on the allegations.

Carrillo said the school district's superintendent, Eduard Zuniga, was asked in a deposition years ago what he would do if he received information that a teacher was having sexual relations with a student.

"And instead of unequivocally saying, 'Yes, you report that to law enforcement, he said, 'It depends on the investigation, and it's up to the discretion of whoever received that information," Carrillo said. "That is not the law."

One of the victims faced sexual abuse at the hands of two of the three staff members listed in the lawsuit, according to court filings. 

She was 14 or 15 years old and a cross country athlete during the 2008-2009 school year when she met a coach for the team, Eduardo Escobar. The lawsuit states he began "isolating" her so he could abuse her without others seeing. The victim later reported Escobar to her teacher, Alex Rai. The lawsuit alleges Rai's support was all part of a "grooming process" to victimize her himself. 

"One day, I just kind of broke down and told him what had happened," she told reporters Wednesday, adding that she soon discovered other young girls had also accused Escobar of abuse.  

"We made our reports and the response we got was 'There was not enough witnesses," she said. "So that was it. That was all we got."

The school had conducted its own investigation and never reported the allegations to law enforcement. 

Meanwhile, as her sexual harassment report went largely ignored, the victim began getting abused by Rai. The lawsuit alleges he "used his position of trust and authority over her to grope her on campus at various times" leading up to her graduation in 2011. The abuse eventually escalated further physically. 

She said the experience has left her with "trust issues" now that she's a mother.

"I know, personally, I don't allow my kids to go to summer camps. If they're in sports, I'm there at every single practice, every single game," she said, her voice choking. "I volunteer just so I'm close by because I'm scared."

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