Teacher claims school district failed to prevent rape, assaults | September 6, 2019 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - September 6, 2019

Teacher claims school district failed to prevent rape, assaults

Civil lawsuit alleges Mountain View Whisman retaliated against victims of abusive Theuerkauf teacher

by Kevin Forestieri

A former Theuerkauf Elementary School teacher filed a civil suit last month against the Mountain View Whisman School District, claiming that the principal and district administrators failed to stop a predatory teacher from assaulting and harassing her on and off campus.

The lawsuit claims that the teacher, referred to as Jane Doe, was subjected to offensive and suggestive comments by first grade teacher Bryan Rios — including in front of children. Rios allegedly groomed her and preyed upon her at the school, eventually luring her to his home in October 2017 where he "mentally and physically abused her, strangled her, tried to kill her, raped her and sodomized her," according to the suit.

Rios was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault following the alleged attack and put on administrative leave, but the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office dropped the criminal charges due to insufficient evidence. This is the second civil suit filed this year against the school district claiming that Rios' alleged harassment and assaults on coworkers at Theuerkauf were ignored, creating a hostile workplace environment in violation of California law.

Prior to the assault, former Theuerkauf Principal Ryan Santiago and Chief Human Relations Officer Carmen Ghysels knew that Rios had a history of sexual harassment, the suit alleges. Santiago "knew something was amiss" and asked Doe multiple times if she was okay during her time at the school, which she thought was odd because she wasn't aware of Rios' history.

"MVWSD and Santiago callously ratified, authorized and allowed defendant Rios to prey on plaintiff knowing full well or should have known he would most likely sexually harass or assault plaintiff; they aided and abetted in his heinous acts," according to the suit.

Mountain View Whisman officials, when asked by the Voice to respond to the numerous allegations, gave this statement via email: "In 2017, as soon as the district learned of the allegations against former employee Bryan Rios, the district immediately placed him on administrative leave and immediately commenced an investigation. While the allegations against Mr. Rios were unrelated to students, the district worked closely with its own employees and local law enforcement to address the situation and to take any and all appropriate corrective action."

Doe joined the school district in June 2017 to teach at Theuerkauf, where Rios worked. The lawsuit claims that district officials and Santiago were both already "on notice" of allegations that Rios had been sexually harassing and assaulting at least one female employee, and that he had previously been put on administrative leave for the conduct in the prior school year. Neither the district nor Santiago "warned, protected or shielded" her from Rios, even though he "had a propensity to prey upon and sexually harass/abuse vulnerable women."

"Nothing was put in place to ensure a workplace free of sexual assault or harassment. Instead, defendants put plaintiff in harm's way when she was assigned to work at Theuerkauf Elementary School," according to the suit.

While she was at the school, Doe reported that Rios would frequently make sexually explicit comments and invade her personal space, sometimes in front of Santiago and district staff, according to the suit. Rios allegedly made sexually suggestive comments about how she looked, standing within an inch or two of her and speaking in a whispering voice. He also allegedly told her he had sexual fantasies about her as a school girl.

The teacher was a Response to Instruction (RTI) teacher at Theuerkauf, whose role was to provide academic enrichment to gifted students and remedial help to struggling students. She was required by the district to share a classroom with Rios. The suit describes how she initially tried to set boundaries with Rios, and that the district took no action to protect or shield her from him in the months leading up to the alleged assault.

After Rios allegedly raped and strangled her, the suit describes how Doe suffered from a series of seizures after the attack, from Oct. 22 through Oct. 26. Although the district's nurse said she could teach on one of the days that she had seizure-like activity, Santiago reportedly walked the nurse out before telling Doe she had to go home until she had medical clearance.

On Nov. 13, 2017, she filed a report of two sexual assaults — one in October and one in November — with the Santa Clara Police Department. Rios had already been placed on administrative leave the prior week, and was eventually arrested on Nov. 29 on suspicion of forced sodomy and forced oral copulation. He was released from custody and the charges were dropped in December, and he resigned from his position in the district.

Court records indicate Doe got a restraining order against Rios in December 2017, which she said she showed to then-Huff Principal Geoff Chang and the Mountain View Whisman District's HR department.

The attorney representing Jane Doe, Mary Josephine Shea, did not respond to requests for comment. No attorney representing Rios was named in court documents.

Retaliation at Huff

In January 2018, Doe was reassigned to teach at Huff Elementary School, where she believes Chang retaliated against her for having reported the sexual harassment and sexual assault.

According to the lawsuit, she and other "known" victims of Rios worked at Huff Elementary School, including Rios' ex-wife. While there, she said she was subjected to heightened scrutiny, micromanagement and demeaning comments, and that her requests for safety on the campus were disregarded and not taken seriously.

The suit claims that Chang "proceeded to harass, humiliate and retaliate aggressively against" Doe when she arrived, introducing her as a "long-term substitute" instead of an RTI teacher and subjecting her to premature evaluations. Chang allegedly told Doe she was a "different person" than when she was at Theuerkauf, and said she did not know how to teach and needed coaching.

The suit lists numerous specific incidents suggesting she faced excessive criticism from Chang. In one instance, she had difficulty with a special education student with behavioral problems who was acting unpredictably and inappropriately touching another student. While being observed by Chang, he told her that she was failing to meet the needs of the child, stating "'I'm not saying it's your fault, but he never acted like this before you came here,'" according to the lawsuit.

The complaint names Rios, Santiago, Chang and school district officials as defendants, with a long list of violations including assault and battery, sexual assault, gender violence and sex-based harassment. The suit claims that the district ran afoul of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by failing to prevent gender-based harassment, discrimination and retaliation.

The suit said that she suffered severe emotional, physical and psychological distress as well as economic harm as a result.

Another former Theuerkauf teacher, Crysti Flowers-Haywood, filed a similar lawsuit in May, arguing that the district wrongfully terminated her employment in retaliation for reporting a hostile and abusive workplace environment created by Rios. That suit alleges that Flowers-Haywood, also an RTI teacher working at Theuerkauf, was sexually harassed by Rios and observed him act in a "hostile, erratic and aggressive manner" toward her and other female teachers.

After reporting the harassment, the suit claims that Santiago was overly critical of her job performance, and told her she was "not a good fit" for the school district. She was eventually determined not to meet the district's standards at the end of her probation period, and her employment was terminated in June 2018.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, Hausman told the Voice that any suggestion that the district retaliated against Flowers-Haywood for speaking out about Rios was "entirely false and misleading."

A case management hearing on Doe's lawsuit is scheduled for Nov. 19 in San Jose.

Email Kevin Forestieri at kforestieri@mv-voice.com


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