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Scandalized San Jose School Sets Up Office To Prevent Student Abuse

SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) -- An all-girls Catholic high school in San Jose at the center of numerous charges of abuse has come up with a new system to handle sexual misconduct accusations.

The new system is a big change for the Presentation High School, since administrators have insisted for months that they were already doing enough to protect students.

The new Office for the Prevention of Student Bullying, Harassment and Abuse is being formed on the Presentation High campus amid a string of sexual abuse and misconduct accusations against faculty members spanning decades.

"The new office was formed so that students could have a safe, independent place to report any incidents of misconduct," said Presentation crisis communications specialist Sam Singer. "Every teacher, every counselor is a mandated reporter. We want to make sure that the students feel safe and they know there are people they can go to and make reports."

1991 Presentation graduate Kathryn Leehane, who was the first to go public last fall with an abuse accusation against a former teacher, was skeptical about the change.

"I think it's unnecessary and a waste of time and money," said Leehane. "You don't need a special office in place to follow the laws. It's really quite simple. If a child comes to you with a report of abuse, you call the police. That's all there is to it."

Leehane says she reported her incident to the principal, but was ignored.

"I felt strung along for about six years," said Leehane. "She kept telling me it was a serious matter. She kept telling me she was working on it, but she never did anything at all."

Since then, 20 other students have come forward with similar stories. Some have been made through a victims' website and social media pages.

"There have been some allegations against Presentation High School.  Many of themhave no bearing on reality," countered Singer.

Singer says Presentation Principal Mary Miller has received threatening phone calls.

One recording was turned over to police.

Victims and their advocates denounced the recording, but said the school's new office lacks credibility because it reports to the board of which the current and former principal are members.

"If you really want to have a conduit within your school, hire a completely independent body which does not answer to the school," advised attorney Robert Allard, who represents some of the students who have made complaints.

Some public schools facing similar allegations have set up a special Title 9 coordinator to handle those types of complaints. Those coordinators are separate from the school and the school board. Presentation High officials say the new office will be up and running by May.

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