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School district failed to investigate sex abuse allegations against Redlands teacher, lawsuit claims

Kevin Patrick Kirkland
A lawsuit alleges Redlands Unified ignored prior reports of abuse by former Redlands High School teacher Kevin Kirkland, who last year was convicted of molesting students.
(Redlands Police Department)

Four former high school students are suing the Redlands Unified School District, alleging they were sexually harassed and abused by a teacher but were told to keep quiet when they reported his behavior to school officials.

An administrator told one student in 2012 that then-Redlands High School math teacher Kevin Kirkland would be disciplined as long as she “did not go to the press,” according to the lawsuit filed this week in San Bernardino County Superior Court. The suit alleges district officials knew of problems with Kirkland going back to 2006. In 2016, the district tried to dissuade a student from reporting the assault to police, according to the suit.

Kirkland, 58, was arrested in April 2016 and subsequently pleaded guilty to molesting four female students from May 2015 to May 2016, and he was sentenced to two years in prison. Kirkland was released from custody in June.

The lawsuit alleges Redlands Unified administrators were notified five times of Kirkland’s abuse, but officials were “more concerned with the image” of the district than in protecting the students.

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One human resources administrator, Sabine Robertson-Phillips, told police there was “nothing” in Kirkland’s file, suggesting he had no history of harassing or abusing students, the suit alleges.

“You’ve got a school district that only wants to protect its own image, a district that wants to make sure their teachers stay in their positions and not investigate their teachers,” said Morgan Stewart, the students’ attorney. “As early as 2006, Redlands Unified School District received notice that he was soliciting a student for sex, and yet left him in the classroom without doing anything.”

This year, Stewart filed a lawsuit on behalf of another former student of Kirkland alleging she was abused in 2013. Stewart said that Kirkland targeted the most vulnerable as a special-needs math teacher.

In a statement, the school district said the lawsuits make “unsubstantiated allegations based on speculation, misrepresentations and hindsight.” A school district lawyer in the statement said that it was unfair to imply the district did not take the allegations seriously and that Kirkland was disciplined to the limits based upon what witnesses and others reported.

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Kirkland could face additional criminal charges. Redlands police said they have submitted other allegations for review by the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office.

The allegations involving Kirkland are the latest to roil the district. Five faculty members have been accused of sexually inappropriate actions with students in less than a decade.

In 2014, Citrus Valley High School teacher Laura Whitehurst had a child who was fathered by a teenage student. Whitehurst pleaded guilty to half a dozen sex crimes with three boys and received a year in jail and was required to register as a sex offender for life. The victims received a $6-million settlement from the district.

In 2013, Redlands Unified paid $505,000 to settle a lawsuit over allegations that a female teacher at Redlands East Valley High School sexually abused a girl.

According to the lawsuit filed this week, when police came to campus to investigate the teacher who had a child with a student, a district official destroyed documents in front of a detective and had to be restrained. Detectives recommended that district administrators be prosecuted, the lawsuit states, but the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office declined to file charges.

The lawsuit focusing on Kirkland alleges that administrators told him to stop texting students and behaving inappropriately. They also informed him that he would be watched for 45 days. Nevertheless, the harassment continued, the lawsuit claims.

According to the suit, Kirkland told one student he would “devour her” because of what she was wearing.

alene.tchekmedyian@latimes.com

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richard.winton@latimes.com

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