SAN JOSE -- Under court order, the Evergreen School District on Thursday released notes taken by a principal who stands accused of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse by a teacher.
The notes by O.B. Whaley Elementary Principal Lyn Vijayendran detail how a second-grade student told her that teacher Craig Chandler put something in her mouth while she was blindfolded and alone with him in a classroom. Chandler wiggled her body and head "back and forth" and earlier asked her to "open her legs," according to the principal's handwritten and typed notes of the interview with the girl.
This newspaper had sought the notes, which had been sealed as part of the court record.
Prosecutors say the girl's account should have been enough for Vijayendran to contact police or Child Protective Services and report potential child abuse -- as the law requires principals, teachers and others who come into contact with children to do. Instead, the principal consulted with Evergreen School District Human Resources Director Carole Schmitt and then warned Chandler not to play what he called a "Helen Keller lesson" with students alone.
Three months later, Chandler purportedly molested another student, whose parent reported him to police.
The court had sealed Vijayendran's handwritten and typed notes, but a judge released them Thursday, 2½ months after this newspaper filed a California Public Records Act request with the Evergreen School District.
Chandler, who was arrested Jan. 10, remains jailed and awaits trial on five counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under age 14.
Vijayendran faces one misdemeanor charge, only the second time in two decades that an educator in Santa Clara County is being charged with failing to report suspected abuse.
In an interview with Vijayendran, Chandler said he called the girl into the classroom to prepare a lesson on Helen Keller, and that the "instructional goal" was to deprive the students of their sight. He said he used a bath sponge on her foot and legs and put a bottle of salty water into her mouth. All the while, his classroom door was open, he told Vijayendran.
"I told Mr. Chandler that his actions were made with very poor judgment," Vijayendran said in her notes. When she described what the girl told her, Chandler replied, "Oh, when you put it that way, it does sound really bad."
Prosecutors allege that a "reasonable person" would have suspected abuse occurred based on the girl's statements, which then obligates a report to authorities.
Eric Geffon, Vijayendran's attorney, disagreed. "Nobody involved in this situation, not the district, the parent nor Lyn thought this was an act of physical abuse," he said.
But Margaret Petros, who advocates on behalf of victims in Santa Clara County, was incensed. "There is no excuse for any person involved in this case not to have reported it," she said. "All these professionals who are paid to protect our children should not just be criminally charged but civilly sued as individuals."
The law doesn't specifically list district-level administrators like Schmitt as mandated reporters.
In the typed notes, Vijayendran wrote that the second-grader's mother was concerned about an incident involving her daughter. With the mother present, Vijayendran interviewed the girl, who described Chandler instructing her to take off her shoes and lie down on the floor while blindfolded. The girl described how Chandler touched her foot with something damp and put something to drink in her mouth.
After hearing the allegation, Vijayendran called the school district's human resources department and asked what to do next, according to the typed notes. Vijayendran said she was directed to keep interviewing the girl and get as detailed an account as possible. The principal complied, and then at the district's instruction called in Chandler.
Vijayendran's notes were also attached to an affidavit of probable cause in the criminal case against her filed by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office but were ordered sealed on Aug. 14 by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Kenneth L. Shapero at the request of the principal's attorney.
Shapero then ordered them unsealed, and rebuffed a move by attorneys representing Vijayendran and Chandler to block the school district from releasing the notes.
Alison Filo, the prosecutor handling Vijayendran's case, was out of the office Thursday but previously told this newspaper that because the principal did not alert police to the first reported incident another child was molested and potential forensic evidence was lost. Vijayendran has been reassigned to the district office as coordinator of teacher support programs.
Tests by the Santa Clara County crime lab found semen on chairs in Chandler's classroom, according to court files.
Chandler continued teaching until January, when he was arrested by San Jose police. In that second case of suspected abuse, the assistant principal reported the complaint to district administrators, spoke to Chandler and notified Child Protective Services the same day. Separately, the parent called police.