BELMONT -- The Belmont-Redwood Shores School District filed a motion Friday to dismiss a sexual abuse case brought about by a former student who claimed educators failed to fully investigate and report her 2001 sexual assault by school janitor Andre Edwards.
Roxanne Pedro, now 25, filed a civil lawsuit Feb. 26 against administrators she said were complicit in her abuse, including San Mateo County Superintendent Anne Campbell, a former principal who announced her re-election bid last month.
A district spokesman said the contentions in the suit contain "convenient 20/20 hindsight not supported by evidence or facts known at the time." He added that the filing came 12 years after the six-month statute of limitations on the case had expired, long after key witnesses had moved from the district, retired or died.
"Ms. Pedro waited until more than 12 years after the alleged molestation to present her claim for damages to the school district," said Tom DeLapp, spokesman for the Belmont-Redwood Shores legal team. "By then, former Ralston School Principal Lawrence Glendenning, who undoubtedly would have been a key witness in explaining the steps the school took to supervise Andre Edwards, had passed away."
DeLapp went on to accuse Pedro's attorneys of banking on the case's media attention to "shame" the district for "hiding behind the statute of limitations."
"We will not bow to these intimidation attempts," said DeLapp, "and insist that this issue be decided in court, where it belongs."
Edwards, 55, will soon finish up a nine-month jail sentence after pleading no contest in April to groping Pedro and another student in 2010. Pedro's attorney, Marc Lewis, said it took 12 years for his client's case to be prosecuted, and only after Edwards similarly assaulted another teen by luring her into his office, forcing himself upon her and reaching under her clothes.
Lewis defended Pedro's deferred filing of the lawsuit by noting that she had only recently been made aware of the district's role in her abuse. The attorney said the police investigation into the subsequent assault in 2010 uncovered evidence that the district had been warned of Edwards' sexual abuse history dating back to 1991, but they had chosen to ignore it.
"For nearly 20 years, the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District failed to protect students at Ralston Middle School despite numerous warnings that the school's janitor was a sexual predator," Lewis said. "The district is now essentially using their own cover-up to deny responsibility for their failure to protect Roxanne and other students."
Pedro's complaint alleged administrators were "skeptical" and "neglectful" of her abuse, which occurred when Edwards towered over her in his janitorial office and asked questions about her genitals and whether she knew how to perform oral sex. He then yanked up her dress and fondled her with his fingers before warning her not to tell anyone and taunting, "That was just a taste."
The lawsuit went on to mention at least six additional incidents in which the district failed to react appropriately, spanning from the first documented incident in 1991 to the last in 2010. One such incident in 1996 spawned a district investigation by then-Principal Campbell, but it was never reported because the student's claims were found to be "unsubstantiated."
DeLapp said that the district was made aware of only one alleged incident involving Edwards prior to 2001, and claimed the 1996 report was made anonymously and informally. He said that while the district cannot fire an employee "based solely on anonymous claims, rumors or innuendo," verbal discussions were had with Edwards about the potential for "personnel discipline and potential criminal prosecution" if his alleged behavior was ever proven.
According to DeLapp, Edwards was also instructed in 1996 not to be alone with students behind closed doors and to attend trainings on mandatory reporting requirements and prohibited sexual contact, and he was frequently dropped in on by Glendenning to make sure he was complying with expectations. And in the wake of Pedro's claims in 2001, the janitorial offices were moved to a more visible location, Dutch doors were installed to block access to students but maintain visibility, and staff trainings and general employee oversight were increased.
"Was this a sufficient and appropriate response? We believe so. Did the district take warning signs seriously? Absolutely," DeLapp said. "Unfortunately, the district simply did not have the information prior to or in 2001 that was developed by the police in 2010. The reasonableness of the district's reaction to events in 1996 and 2001 will be measured against the facts of the situation known at the time, not by what is known now. That is the law."