School of Rock, a private music school in Midtown Palo Alto, is facing a civil lawsuit stemming from incidents of sexual abuse against a 15-year-old student by one of its instructors in 2017.
The instructor, John Patrick Root, pleaded guilty in March 2018 to two counts of lewd and lascivious conduct on a 14- or 15-year old. He was arrested after another music teacher tipped off the police. Root was sentenced to up to a year in county jail.
Now, attorneys for the victim are arguing in a civil lawsuit against Root and School of Rock that the company was negligent in allowing Root to work at its school in the first place, given what attorneys have called his "verifiable history of drug abuse, mental illness and/or sexual perversion that should have disqualified him from working alone with children."
Mark Boskovich, an attorney with the firm Corsiglia, McMahon & Allard LLP, which is representing the victim’s family, said there were two reasons for the civil lawsuit: to get monetary damages for the girl so that she can get treatment to deal with the traumatic aftereffects of sexual abuse, and to hold accountable the parties who are at fault for the abuse.
The suit, which was filed on Jan. 10 in the Santa Clara County Superior Court, argues that the school was negligent in allowing the abuse to take place. A simple Google search should have informed the school that Root is not qualified to teach students on a one-one-one basis.
Given that the school teaches students of various ages, starting as early as 6 years old, it should have done a better job in screening out Root, who according to the suit “boasted about his sexual, pornographic, and/or narcotic exploits on the Internet, including on his personal blog and under his own name."
"If you don’t have the right people working with them, it’s a recipe for disaster,” Boskovich said.
In this case, the biggest issue with School of Rock was inadequate vetting.
"If they vetted this person in the right way, he would have never been with these kids," he said.
According to the suit, the abuse began in 2016, when the girl, then 14, began taking private classes at School of Rock at 2645 Middlefield Road. The suit states that Root used his position of influence to ingratiate himself with her and "groom her for subsequent sexual abuse or exploitation." This included giving her advice on a personal relationship, telling her she was his favorite student and taking her to "unsupervised off-site locations" during private lessons.
The relationship seemed troubling enough to the victim’s mother that she reportedly called the school and told its co-owner, Felix Archuleta, that she was uncomfortable with the growing closeness between Root and her daughter. According to the suit, Archuleta admitted that Root had told him he and the student were "getting close." He allegedly told the victim’s mother that he told Root to “keep it to the music, man” and assured her that there would be a "refresher" on proper boundaries.
When the mother suggested that Archuleta fire Root, he reportedly replied that Root is “an old friend.” The mother then told Archuleta that a Google search showed that Root was engaged in pornography.
The relationship intensified in the first half of 2017, when Root told the girl that he wanted to have a sexual relationship with her, exchanged sexually explicit messages and photographs with her and pressured her to engage in sexual acts with him, according to the suit. The suit states that the girl suffered urinary tract infections after intercourse with Root in May and June 2017.
The suit notes that the school continued to employ Root until his arrest in July 2017.
Boskovich said the Palo Alto incident is part of a broader pattern involving School of Rock, with similar incidents of abuse also reported in locations in San Antonio, Texas; Chicago; and Chico. While inadequate vetting is one issue, insufficient enforcement is another, he said.
He noted that, in this case, someone had reported the inappropriate conduct to the local School of Rock and nothing was done. A report was then forwarded to the national organization and, again, there was no response.
"When we have these kinds of policies in place, there have to be some mechanisms to enforce them," Boskovich said.
In response to an inquiry from the Voice's sister paper, the Palo Alto Weekly, the corporate School of Rock maintained in a statement that it is taking the issue of student safety very seriously.
"Student safety is our first priority, and when we were made aware by our Palo Alto franchisees that their employee breached our code of conduct and put a child at risk, we worked closely with law enforcement to investigate," the statement reads.
"The franchise owners of the Palo Alto location at the time of the incident are no longer part of our system. Everyday, we continuously focus our efforts on student safety and insist our franchisees do the same."
Root was unable to be reached for this article.
Staff Writer Elena Kadvany contributed to this report