When a teacher’s aide at Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, CA was arrested for molesting one of the special-ed students under his care, the school district’s first impulse was to cover the incident up and hope no one would find out.
Now the student’s parents have sued the Santa Ana Unified School District for negligently keeping on an employee that other parents had been complaining about for years. The district’s lawyers have responded by not only blaming the mentally disabled girl for her own abuse but asking that the judge dismiss the charges and make the victim’s family pay the district’s legal fees.
The seventeen-year-old victim, who has cerebral palsy, has the mental capacity of a seven-year-old and is confined to a wheelchair. Because she is unable to speak, no one knows exactly what was happening when another school employee found her alone in a room with Alonso Manuel Gonzalez, with her shirt pulled up and her breasts exposed, but the incident resulted in the aide’s arrest for a “lewd act with dependent adult.”
The school’s immediate reaction was to attempt to keep the incident under wraps. Saddleback teachers told the OC Weekly they had been told not to discuss the incident with anyone. Parents were not notified and a school representative refused to discuss the matter with a reporter. Over the next few months, the school district made no public acknowledgment of the arrest, either when Gonzalez was arraigned or several months later when he pleaded guilty to child abuse and endangerment.
The parents of other disabled students, however, quickly came forward with their own complaints about Gonzalez, going back to at least 2005. They told the OC Weekly that a group of parents had met with Saddleback’s principle and the head of the district’s special-ed program to complain that Gonzalez made the students uncomfortable and seemed to want to spend time alone with female students, but that the district ignored their concerns.
Now, a year after the aide’s guilty plea, the parents of the student have brought a civil suit against Gonzales for causing mental and physical trauma to their daughter and also against the school district for negligence. As a result, the district’s lawyers are fighting back — hard.
In a filing with the Orange County Superior Court, the attorneys claim that the wheelchair-bound girl “chose to encounter the known risk” of being alone with Gonzalez, that she “consented to” him lifting up her shirt, and that her injuries were the result of her having “failed to use due and reasonable care for her own safety and protection.”
They also charge her parents with having “negligently, carelessly and recklessly supervised, monitored, controlled and instructed the minor plaintiff so as to legally cause and contribute to her injuries and damages, if any.”
“As a grand, caring finale, the district asked presiding Judge Luis A. Rodriguez to not only dismiss all charges against them but to make the victim’s family pay all legal fees,” the OC Weekly concludes, adding, “Since when did the Santa Ana Unified School District take its directions toward sex abuse from the Diocese of Orange?”