Rialto high school officials threatened to expel student who reported sex assaults, mother alleges
The mother of a 15-year-old girl who reported being sexually assaulted by a fellow student at Carter High School in Rialto is accusing school officials of threatening to expel her daughter for reporting the abuse.
Stephanie Olvera, the girl’s mother, addressed reporters Friday in Ontario with her boyfriend and two attorneys representing her and her daughter.
Olvera’s daughter is one of three teenage girls who have reported being sexually abused by a 17-year-old male student in recent months, according to authorities. Two school officials face charges after being accused of failing to report the abuse to law enforcement.
Olvera said her daughter has been traumatized by the abuse and by what she described as hostility from school administrators.
“What makes me the angriest is that the vice principal herself reached out to me and stated to me that there was no immediate concern,” the girl’s mother said. “I asked her plenty of times if I needed to leave my job so I can go and attend to my daughter, and she told me, ‘No, I’m a mother myself. You have no reason to worry.’”
The vice principal then told her to speak with her daughter at home, Olvera said, adding that she knew something was wrong because her daughter did not want to communicate or go out with family.
“I did mention to her while I was on the phone with her [that] my daughter’s not the same as of a couple months,” she said. “Is there a reason I should worry?”
Olvera said the vice principal told her no.
The seven students were abused by their fourth-grade teacher at Hart Street Elementary in Canoga Park. He was convicted in 2018.
Assistant principals David Shenhan Yang, 38, and Natasha Harris, 37, each face one felony count of child abuse under circumstances or conditions likely to cause great bodily injury or death, and two misdemeanor counts of failure of a mandated reporter to report child abuse or neglect, San Bernardino County prosecutors said Wednesday.
Harris and Yang are considered mandated reporters under California law and should have immediately contacted law enforcement after they were notified of child abuse or neglect, prosecutors said.
Jail records show Yang and Harris were released from custody Thursday morning. Bail amounts were not listed.
Syeda Jafri, a Rialto Unified School District spokeswoman, said that the safety and well-being of students is the district’s top priority and that officials are treating the allegations against the assistant principals “with extreme seriousness.”
An internal investigation by the district is ongoing, and officials are cooperating with authorities, Jafri said.
Olvera said she immediately called Rialto police after her daughter told her about the abuse she’d been suffering. She also alleged school officials threatened to expel her daughter if she kept reporting the abuse.
“My daughter had reported this student several times so they were tired of her going to the office,” she said. “They kept telling her to drop the subject.”
Voters and parents say education suffered during the pandemic and, for the moment at least, their confidence in public schools is shaken, according to a poll.
Olvera said her daughter reported the abuse to school officials three times before telling her about it. She did not say when her daughter first approached school officials.
“From what I know the first principal that took a report on it looked at her in her eyes and told her it might have been the way you dress or it might be that you’re seeking attention,” the mother said.
Her daughter’s friends saw that she was being harassed and told the male student to leave her alone, Olvera said. The male student went to school administrators, Olvera said, and they called her daughter to the office and told her that she needed to control her friends or she’d be held accountable for their actions.
Michael Alder, an attorney representing the victim and her family, said he plans to file a claim next week “for a number of issues.” He did not provide specifics and encouraged anyone with information to contact his office.
“The whole point of the reporting requirement is that the first one stops anything else from happening again,” Alder said. “That wasn’t done, and now we know that’s happened again and again.”
The 15-year-old victim’s abuse was “substantial,” occurred on multiple occasions on school property, and was accompanied by harassment and intimidation, he said.
One student was arrested after the stabbing, which led to a brief shelter-in-place order for the campus, authorities said.
Rialto police said they were first notified around 6:30 p.m. Feb. 16 of a sexual battery at the high school, and an initial report indicated that a 17-year-old male student had sexually assaulted a 15-year-old female student several times over the course of three months. Police found that the victim told Yang and Harris about the assaults in November.
Detectives launched an investigation and learned two more female students, ages 15 and 16, were sexually assaulted by the same male student, according to a statement by the Rialto Police Department.
Olvera’s daughter is the second victim identified by Rialto police, said Samantha Hernandez-Ortega, one of two attorneys representing the family. One victim came forward before her daughter and a third victim was identified by authorities this month after police started investigating.
Police said they launched an ongoing criminal investigation into the alleged assaults and the failure to report by Yang and Harris as soon as they were notified.
Detectives issued a citation to the 17-year-old suspect and released him into his parents’ custody pending criminal charges, police said.
Anyone with information related to the investigations into the assaults or the assistant principals’ failures to report is asked to call Lt. James Mills at (909) 820-2632.
Anonymous tips can be submitted by calling WeTip at (800) 782-7463.
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