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After private school teacher arrested, California parents in the dark: ‘Where’s the truth?’

An aerial view of Cate School in Carpinteria at 1960 Cate Mesa Road.
An aerial view of Cate School in Carpinteria at 1960 Cate Mesa Road.
(Google maps)

A high school music teacher’s arrest on allegations of sexual misconduct has two private schools in Colorado and California pointing the finger of blame at each other.

Da’Jon James, 28, was arrested in July by the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office in Colorado after four students and parents from the private Dawson School reported allegations of sexual misconduct, including inappropriate kissing on students’ foreheads and fondling.

Earlier that month, the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced that it had launched an investigation at Cate School in Carpinteria after a mandated reporter on campus — a person legally required to report suspicions of child abuse to authorities — came forward with similar allegations regarding James during his tenure at the elite boarding school.

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A former private school teacher under investigation for sexual misconduct at the Cate School was arrested in Colorado in connection to different allegations.

In a letter sent to community members last week, George P. Moore, Dawson’s head of school, said the hiring process for James “was consistent with best practices in the industry and identical to the hiring for all Dawson employees.” That process, he stated, included conversations with two Cate School employees who “mentioned nothing about sexual misconduct or other inappropriate behavior at Cate School.”

“The background check likewise did not show any criminal history or other red flags,” Moore stated.

Prior to starting at Dawson, James was Cate School’s director of vocal music for six months beginning in the fall of 2019. Ben Williams, head of school at Cate, said James was terminated in February 2020.

In an email, Williams stated that “two faculty members who are not authorized to speak on behalf of Cate School were called by Dawson employees and they explicitly stated that they were not authorized to speak on behalf of the School.

“Consistent with standard practice, schools who contacted those authorized to speak on behalf of Cate about matters relating to employees — the Head of School or the Assistant Head of School — were told of the circumstances of Mr. James’ termination,” Williams said. “No schools who contacted Cate School officials offered Mr. James employment.”

It comes amid the school’s own internal investigation into potential abuse dating back decades

It was not immediately clear when James was hired at Dawson. School officials did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

James was “relieved of his teaching duties and removed from campus” on Feb. 4, Moore said in his letter. Moore said he reported the allegations the following day to the Boulder County Child Welfare Hotline.

That same month, Boulder County Sheriff’s Office deputies were contacted by the county’s Child Protective Services agency regarding a possible sex assault on a student by a teacher. The alleged abuse reportedly began the month before.
“The four female students disclosed they were subjected to inappropriate language, sexually explicit imagery, prolonged hugging, fondling, inappropriate complimenting and inappropriate kissing on their foreheads. All the alleged incidents occurred on school property during school hours,” the sheriff’s office said.

After leaving Dawson, James applied for a music position at Sun Valley Community School in Idaho. James did not list Dawson on his resume, according to Ben Pettit, Sun Valley’s head of school.

Pettit on April 2 called Williams at Cate School, who “indicated that Mr. James had been terminated and was under investigation for potential boundary issues with students,” Pettit said. “Which was more than enough for me to decide not to hire Mr. James.”

A report has excavated open secrets and long-buried trauma at the exclusive Thacher School, concluding it failed to protect its students.

Boulder County deputies in July arrested James on two felony counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust and one misdemeanor count of unlawful sexual contact.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office had announced its investigation earlier that month. That investigation is ongoing.

The family of one of the students in Colorado has since filed a lawsuit against Dawson and James, according to Boulder’s Daily Camera newspaper. The lawsuit alleges that James touched the girl inappropriately, slapped her in the face when unhappy with her vocal performance and began texting her.

In interviews with The Times, several Cate parents and students described what they called problematic behavior associated with James, who served as a “dorm parent,” including allegations of prolonged hugs and forehead kisses.

One parent described an occasion in which James allegedly made a sexual comment to her daughter and other girls. She said her daughter reported it to Cate administrators in November 2019.

The parent, who asked not to be identified, described her frustration at reading the Dawson letter. She questioned “when or if Cate School will ever acknowledge accountability for their mishandling of this case or if they are digging their heels in to avoid legal liability.”

Parents, alumni and students have been waiting months for Cate to release the findings of an internal investigation launched in October 2020, after former students came forward with allegations of “sexual misconduct involving faculty members and students that occurred several decades ago.”

“I’m outraged all over again,” the parent said. “Once again we’re sitting in the dark. ... Is the Dawson School covering their own ass? Is Cate covering their ass? Where’s the truth? I don’t know.”


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