Kristen Cunnane is 30 years old today, but was a mere child of 12 when she was abused by teachers at Moraga Middle School.
Cunnane was sexually abused by two Moraga middle school teachers in the 1990s, one of them over a four-year period. She sued the district, retired Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School principal Bill Walters, retired assistant principal Paul Simonin and retired superintendent John Cooley in Contra Costa Superior Court, saying they repeatedly ignored allegations of abuse, allowing her and other students to be victimized.
Former Joaquin Moraga P.E. teacher Julie Correa pleaded guilty to rape and sexual battery against Cunnane over a four-year period beginning in 1996, when Cunnane was an eighth-grader. Cunnane said Correa groomed her after she confided in her that Joaquin Moraga science teacher Daniel Witters had molested her. Witters committed suicide shortly after a group of girls came forward with allegations in 1996, and police stopped investigating him criminally after that.
The Moraga School District’s response to the suit?
The district and three other defendants claim Cunnane “was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims,” in the Oct. 24 legal filing.
“Carelessness and negligence on (Cunnane’s) part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident and to the injuries, loss and damages,” they claim.
After all, shouldn’t the 12-year-old student bear the responsibility for being so enticing to adult teachers under the supervision of school administrators? Lolita much?
The district’s response drew obvious outrage, so the district doubled down to justify this utterly outrageous response.
The school district’s attorney said Thursday that the language used as part of its legal stance was appropriate and necessary at the start of such a civil case with significant financial ramifications. The response did not specify how Cunnane was “negligent” or “responsible” for the abuse.
Louis Leone said “every potential defense” must be raised in such legal filings, “since failure to do so results in a waiver of the defense.”
“It is imperative that all possible defenses be raised at this point in time. As more facts become known, the district will then reassess its defenses,” the Walnut Creek attorney said.
A very cautious, lawyerly reaction, but for two crucial problems. First, the abuse occurred nearly 20 years ago, and to the extent the district doesn’t know the facts as yet, someone over there is brain dead. Second, regardless of the facts, there is no argument to be made, no scenario described, no details parsed, that could conceivably shift any responsibility whatsoever from the teachers who raped and molested Cunnane onto a 12-year-old student. It doesn’t matter if she ripped off her clothes and threw herself atop the teachers. They are still totally responsible for what they did to a child.
The protection of their charges is a fundamental argument used by school districts to justify the mindless enforcement of their beloved rules, where embrace of such simplistic concepts as zero tolerance draws the cheers of parents until their baby is involved or where the result is so ridiculously absurd that not even the most brickheaded mommy can ignore the inapplicability.
And yet, the Moraga School District has allowed its lawyer, perhaps even compelled its lawyer, to answer the complaint by alleging that the fault for the rape of its student by its teacher is the child’s fault. It’s hard to reconcile. It’s reduces pedagogical excuses to a joke.
These are the same governmental units that pontificate about the blight of bullying, violence and sexual contact, all too happy to throw students off the ledge for calling someone fat, or drawing a picture of a gun with a crayon, or hugging another student. They have to, they claim, because it’s their responsibility to protect students. It’s their sacred duty.
Yet, when put to the test by Cunnane, the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the child who was raped.
The district’s lawyer’s explanation for his outrageous allegations will likely evoke a circumspect reaction from some civil defense lawyers, who may explain that it’s not to be taken too seriously, but just included in the district’s answer in “an excess of caution.” After all, the argument that a defense not stated is waived is certainly accurate, and it might be negligent of the lawyer to fail to include a potential defense, no matter how absurd.
This is true, yet utterly wrong. At best, it reflects the worst of lawyers, so overly cautious as to rationalize the outlandish possibility that the child can be at fault for being raped by a teacher. At worst, it reflects how cynical lawyers have become in their zeal to win at any cost. The allegation that a 12-year-old (notice how many times I mention Cunnane’s age in this post?) can ever be responsible for being molested by her teachers goes far beyond frivolous.
The lawyer and district should not only be sanctions for raising such a defense. but should be ousted from any position of trust forever for even considering such a claim. If anything, the fact that students were being raped and molested at the Moraga Middle School, and that pleas for help were ignored, is bolstered by the fact that the district would even consider such a defense.
One would hope that most school districts, most administrators, most teachers, and most lawyers, would be disgusted by what happened here. And yet, the fact that a school district, any school district, would attempt to shift liability off its shoulders by putting it on the back of a 12-year-old student is beyond belief. To the extent that school personnel might have claimed entitlement to the benefit of the doubt before, unless they condemn the tactics of the Moraga School District in this case, they have forfeited any claim of righteousness. As for the Moraga School District, they are scum.