The family of a teenaged girl sexually abused by a Chino Hills High School science teacher even after officials learned of inappropriate emails between them has been awarded $5.6 million by a jury.
The Chino Valley Unified School was ordered to pay 60% of the verdict handed down Tuesday by a Rancho Cucamonga jury, and the former teacher, John Hirsch, who is now a convicted sex offender, must pay the remainder.
"The jury was outraged at the school district's conduct. This could have been easily prevented if the school had chosen to protect the student, instead of protecting the teacher," said attorney David Ring, who represented the girl's family. "The community should be incensed; school officials should lose their jobs for how they handled this matter."
School district officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.
After learning of the inappropriate emails, district officials did too little and even attempted to pass him off to another district with a letter of recommendation, according to the lawsuit.
Ring said the girl's parents reported to the district in October 2009 the inappropriate, romantic emails sent by the teacher to their then-14-year-old daughter.
Then-Principal Carl Hampton promised the parents he would take care of it, and the district ordered Hirsch to stay away from her. The girl also was removed from the teacher's class, according to court records.
But within a few weeks, the girl was back in his classroom for lunch on an almost daily basis, according to court records.
"No school administrator ever checked Hirsch's classroom to ensure he was staying away from the girl," Ring said.
But parents of a different child complained about the teacher talking about sexual conduct in his classroom in December 2009.
In February 2010, the district informed Hirsch he would not be rehired for the 2010-11 school year. He was allowed finish out the school year, teaching in the classroom, court records show.
"Within weeks, the evidence at trial showed Hirsch then started having sex with the girl in the classroom and off the school site as well," Ring said.
An assistant principal at the high school wrote Hirsch a letter of recommendation in May 2010 so he could use it to try to get a job at another district, court records show.
"This is called 'passing the trash' and is a common, albeit despicable, practice of schools in California and across the nation," said Ring, a veteran of school sexual misconduct litigation.
That same month, the girl's mother again went to the school to express concerns about Hirsch contacting her daughter.
Hirsch was finally caught on June 4, 2010, when a neighbor of the girl's family saw him using a ladder to try climb into her bedroom late at night.
The neighbor confronted the teacher, who took off running. Informed of the incident, the girl's parents recognized the description of the man and called authorities.
Shortly after, San Bernardino County sheriff's detectives arrested the 41-year-old teacher on suspicion of child molestation.
Hirsch was convicted of felony unlawful sex with a minor and lewd and lascivious acts with a minor in April 2011 after he agreed to a plea bargain that dismissed five other felony counts.
He was sentenced to a year in jail and three years' probation and ordered to register as a sex offender and participate in a sex offender treatment program.
During the three-week civil trial that concluded Tuesday, Ring maintained the district's conduct amounted to "negligent supervision and retention of Hirsch" because of its knowledge of his conduct.
Jurors in the case heard from the girl's parents and several school administrators. During the same period, a band teacher at the school also was convicted of sexual abusing another teenage girl.
After two days of deliberation, jurors awarded $5,59 million in compensation, with the district being ordered to pay $3,39 million of the total verdict.
The girl, who is now 18, had to transfer high schools and was the subject of ridicule and rumors that have taken an emotional toll on her in the years since the abuse, court records stated.