The Redlands Unified School District has agreed to settlements totaling $15.7 million in connection with lawsuits involving three teachers accused of molesting eight former students.
The large settlement for the district of 21,000 students comes after repeated allegations that school officials failed to alert authorities of suspected sexual abuse by staff of students. The settlements include more than $7 million for one of six victims of Redlands High School math teacher Kevin Patrick Kirkland.
Last year Kirkland pleaded guilty to eight felonies and three misdemeanors for sexually abusing four female students from May 2015 to May 2016. He was sentenced to two years in prison but served only 13 months.
According to attorneys, that single payout to Kirkland’s victim is the largest pretrial settlement involving a sex abuse allegation against an educator.
The school district and its insurer in recent years had previously paid out more than $6.5 million to settle claims that students were sexually abused by their teachers, including $6 million for a high school boy who fathered his teacher's baby.
According to the suit, Kirkland engaged in sexual acts with dozens of students while administrators dissuaded victims from reporting his actions.
An administrator told one student in 2012 that Kirkland would be disciplined as long as she “did not go to the press,” according to the lawsuit in San Bernardino County Superior Court. The suit alleges district officials knew of problems with Kirkland dating to 2006. In 2016, the district tried to dissuade a student from reporting the assault to police, according to the suit.
“The size of this settlement reflects the immense harm done to our clients and the continuing failure of the Redlands Unified School District to protect students from sexual predators. We have eight perpetrators at Redlands High School in a 10-year period who have been preying upon the students unabated,” said Morgan Stewart, an attorney who handled the cases. “The administration in charge was the same during each of these incidents, which is telling.”
Stewart on Tuesday said the state and the federal governments need to investigate the district’s conduct and its years of cover-ups and failure to act on reports.
He said Kirkland, 59, targeted the most vulnerable as a special-needs math teacher by using treats and tricks to groom students.
The school district responded to the announcement in a statement, saying, “We hope that this settlement provides a sense of closure and healing for the victims and enables our District to move forward. Regrettably, Redlands Unified is unable to erase the repugnant actions of these individuals.”
The district said it would act swiftly on any child abuse actions and had retained a top expert on the issue to advise and train staff.
The settlement costs will mostly be borne by the district’s insurer, a school district joint powers authority. Redlands Unified itself is required to pay $383,330.
The settlements also include one for a student who in a lawsuit alleged she was sexually abused as a 15- and 16-year-old by former English teacher Brian Townsley in 2008. Prosecutors opted to not charge Townsley with “annoying or molesting” a child in 2008. The girl had initially denied being abused by the teacher.
Another former student who received a settlement alleged Daniel Bachman, a former Redlands High theater technician, had sex with her as a minor from 2011 to 2013. Redlands police investigated Bachman, who was in his early 20s at the time. During the August 2015 interview he admitted to having had sexual intercourse with the student, according to a police report filed in the lawsuit. But the San Bernardino County district attorney's office declined to charge him, citing insufficient evidence.
Stewart said the significant sums for the settlements are in part because of a failure by administrators to investigate reports of sexual abuse. He also notes that outgoing Dist. Atty. Mike Ramos once served on the school board and that his office has not charged administrators who police officers believe did not handle the allegations appropriately.
After Laura Whitehurst, a teacher at Redlands and Citrus Valley high schools, was convicted in 2013 for having sex with three boys, including one who was the father of her child, Redlands police referred two administrators for prosecution.