MORAGA -- Information gathered from public records requests by this newspaper into the failure by Moraga School District staff to report sexual abuse of students by teachers during the 1990s has been reviewed, assessed and evaluated by the district, and action has been taken, district officials said.
However, the extent of the district's response toward "mandated reporters" who suspected or knew about child abuse but did not do their jobs is not being disclosed, with district Superintendent Bruce Burns citing legal constraints on disclosure of personnel information.
The Times has reported that former Joaquin Moraga Intermediate School principle Bill Walters failed to report allegations of abuse to authorities against teacher Dan Witters, who later committed suicide. According to school documents, other administrators knew of the abuse, as did former Joaquin Moraga Intermediate schoolteacher Julie Correa. She is serving an eight-year prison sentence sexually abusing a student starting shortly after learning about Witters' behavior.
Despite repeated calls by one resident for an independent investigation, the school's internal probe -- which Burns detailed in a May 30 letter to parents that also said it had been completed -- appears to be the only investigation the school district is planning.
"The District has completed the process, taken action and is now addressing the work conducted by the Student Safety Committee," Burns wrote in
Walters announced his retirement following a records request from this newspaper.
Given the serious nature of the allegations against the former principal, information about possible disciplinary action taken by the school district against Walters should be available to the public, according to Bay Area News Group attorney Duffy Carolan.
Police said neither Walters nor other school district employees would face criminal charges for failing to report the abuse, as the statute of limitations has run out.
However, during an Aug. 22 governing board meeting, a resident said it still wasn't clear why school administrators failed to report the abuse in the first place.
"All of this is wonderful," Barbara Simpson said about the school's formation of a safety committee to review and revise policy. "But it doesn't explain how the problem happened."
Simpson has repeatedly requested an independent investigation into the abuse scandal, and has argued the school district isn't qualified to investigate itself given the past failures to report.
Resident Jim Obsitnik has a different perspective. Obsitnik is one of more than 20 people -- including parents, teachers and community members -- on the student safety committee. In an interview, Obsitnik said he is comfortable with what he characterized as the committee's broad, transparent look at the situation and the resulting recommendations and dialogue. He also said he doesn't think an independent investigation is needed, and that documents used in this newspaper's investigation are accessible to others under the Public Records Act.
School board president Dexter Louie said the school district does not have the power to conduct a police-style investigation, interrogate individuals and record their answers.
Louie also said the recent discussions of mandated reporting addressed many questions about the basic breakdown itself.
"You can't make people adhere to that policy," Louie said, referring to school employees' obligation to report suspected or actual abuse to proper authorities under a section of the California Penal Code known as the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act. That law makes up the bulk of the school's policy on child abuse.
School leaders plan to address possible revisions to that policy in October.