A scandal in Los Angeles

Jeff Kuhner

The Catholic Church is not the only institution facing a sex abuse crisis. The Los Angeles Unified School District has an ugly scandal of its own--and teenagers are again the victims. Richard Winton, a reporter at the Los Angeles Times, has written several incisive articles on the burgeoning crisis involving a former L.A. assistant principal, Steve Rooney. According to the Times, Rooney is alleged to have had a sexual relationship with a then-15-year-old female student at the Foshay Learning Center.

The Foshay student says she told a school administrator that she was having an affair with Rooney, in which she lived with him at his downtown apartment for some time. Rather than report the improper--and illegal--relationship, the student alleges that the administrator urged her to "recant" her statements. Why was the administrator, whose name has not been divulged, so determined to cover up for Rooney? Because the student feared that the revelations would result in Rooney being criminally charged for committing lewd acts with a minor and going to jail.

Hence, Rooney was never discharged, suspended, or even investigated by the LAUSD--even though law enforcement authorities had conducted a criminal probe into accusations by the Foshay student's stepfather that Rooney threatened him with a gun for demanding the relationship be terminated. Instead, Rooney was transferred by school district officials to Markham Middle School in South Los Angeles last year. During his tenure at Markham, Rooney is alleged to have molested two female students, one a 13-year-old, and the other 14. Apparently, Rooney used his authority at Markham to hand out hall passes allowing female students to leave class and visit him at his office. He would then drive these girls around on his motorcycle, and buy them expensive gifts, such as designer purses and iPods. He seduced the 13-year-old to his apartment before she says Rooney sexually assaulted her.

Rooney has now been charged with multiple counts of committing lewd acts with a minor, sexual molestation, and having unlawful sex with the Foshay girl. His trial has just begun and it looks like the prosecution has a very solid case. Rooney will most likely rot in jail--where he belongs.

The bigger issue, however, is the Los Angeles school district's complicity in transferring Rooney to Markham, which enabled him to continue to prey on innocent girls. By failing to conduct an internal investigation of Rooney's actions at Foshay, school administrators were not only negligent but violated district policy. The policy calls for school officials to complete their own independent probe of a teacher even if the police decide not to press charges against a district employee. Once law enforcement has initiated a criminal investigation into alleged wrongdoing by a teacher and then decides not to pursue the matter any further--as happened regarding Rooney's threats against the Foshay girl's stepfather--the LAUSD is obligated to complete its own internal, comprehensive review. This did not happen with Rooney. The result is that two girls have had their lives destroyed--perhaps irreparably. Victims of sexual assault, especially at such a young age, often never fully recover. Their innocence, their dignity, and their emotional, physical, and psychological well-being have been shattered.

Sadly, it all could have been prevented. It's time the LAUSD adopted a zero-tolerance policy towards child sex abuse. It can start by holding accountable the school administrators who covered up for Rooney and enabled him to wreak havoc on the Markham student body. People need to pay with their jobs, and maybe even prison time. Justice demands it.

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