The revelation last week from a retired teacher claiming she was punished in the 1990s for repeatedly warning Moraga School District officials that a middle school teacher was acting inappropriately with female students adds fuel to an already-smoking scandal.
It also demonstrates that California has much work to do if it is to properly protect students from sexual abuse in public schools.
Authorities must fully investigate the claims of retired teacher Carol Scozzafava, who says she had complained to at least seven administrators about the behavior of Dan Witters, a popular science teacher at Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School.
And by authorities, we mean people from outside the district. Although the parties involved are different now, we do not believe the district can be trusted to fully investigate itself. This is a case for the District Attorney's Office or for state officials.
Scozzafava says that not only were her claims brushed aside at the time but that she was punished and eventually driven from the district, ironically, in the same year she was named a Contra Costa teacher of the year.
If her allegations are true, the case must be fully pursued. Given all of the stories we have read about recently in this and other districts, we find it hard to believe that Scozzafava is the only person whose complaints were dismissed by school officials. We hope news of her case prompts others to have the courage to come forward.
In an investigation last year, this newspaper found evidence that officials in the Moraga district buried many complaints about Witters' behavior in the early 1990s. Finally, in 1996, several girls came forward with specific allegations against Witters. He was placed on leave and killed himself days later, which halted a criminal investigation.
But the paper's investigation revealed dozens of earlier complaints had been filed against Witters and that officials not only failed to report the complaints to police, as is required by law, but allowed him to keep teaching.
Four victims have since sued the district and three retired administrators for more than $40 million, saying their failures left them vulnerable to the molestation.
We will leave the legal system to settle the particulars of those cases, but it reinforces the twin messages often expressed on these pages that our system for dealing with sexual abuse in schools is woefully inadequate and that reporting of suspected sexual abuse to police is not optional -- it is required.
In this case, officials should have reported Witters, but, frankly, so should have Scozzafava. Everyone in the system has an affirmative duty to go to the police, not just pass it up the chain of command.
We believe that the Legislature and state education officials must tackle this issue head-on. We recommend they establish a single training regime that must be explicit, clear, thorough and complete. Perhaps it could be offered as an online course, much like the ethics course currently required of public officials.
It is a subject that simply cannot be swept under the rug any longer.