|Parents: St. Paul Lutheran School Covered up Sexual Abuse
By Jeremy Roebuck
February 11, 2008
McALLEN — A group of parents sued St. Paul Lutheran private school on Monday accusing administrators of covering up repeated acts of sexual abuse a 5-year-old student allegedly
The parents claim school employees knew about at least eight instances of purported sexual molestation since September and did not notify the victims' parents.
In one case, administrators allegedly ordered a teacher to lie about the severity of the accusations, according to the lawsuit.
"They ignored it, they covered it up, and more students got hurt," said Oscar R. Alvarez, an attorney representing the suing parents.
But the school's board director, David Casso, insisted the church and campus — both located near the intersection of Col. Rowe and Pecan boulevards — remain a safe environment for children.
"The school has been there for 70 years," he said. "I'm confident that the school and the school board investigated the matter."
Casso declined to discuss the parents' specific allegations because he had not yet seen their lawsuit.
It is The Monitor's policy not to identify the victims of alleged sexual abuse, so their parents' names have been withheld to protect the children's identities.
One parent of an alleged victim, who also worked at the school during the five months the sexual abuse purportedly occurred, said she witnessed one of the acts and tried in vain to get higher-ups to take the problem seriously.
The school principal had previously notified teachers of a history of sexual abuse in the 5-year-old child's family but did not take action when children started coming forward, the victim's parent said.
As months went by, the young boy reportedly abused more children between the ages of 4 and 5, she said. Before administrators removed him from the campus earlier this year, a total of eight victims had been identified.
Some of their parents still don't know about the accusations of sexual impropriety, the woman said.
She claims she has since lost her job at the school because of her efforts to let other parents know.
But Casso said the woman was fired for unrelated reasons.
The school thoroughly investigated the accusations against the 5-year-old, Casso said. Parents were not initially notified because administrators found no evidence sexual abuse had ever occurred.
"The teacher and two aides in that classroom have over 50 years of experience among them," he said. "We take the safety of the students very seriously."
Policies outlined in the school's parent-student handbook require that "parents of all parties involved will be notified" of any sexual harassment investigations.
So, another alleged victim's mother said she was shocked to learn about the accusations from other parents — and even more bothered when she learned they had complained months before her own son's encounter with the 5-year-old.
Since then, teachers at the school have never asked her son to explain the allegations.
"I at least would have wanted them to send home a note," she said. "I just can't understand how they thought that this would pass."
The parents have each asked for $75,000 in damages. None of the alleged victims still attend St. Paul's.
A hearing date has not yet been set for the case.
The lawsuit came the same day a former youth group volunteer at the associated St. Paul's Lutheran Church admitted he sexually assaulted a teenage girl over a period of two and a half years.
John Lamar Cain, who volunteered with the church's youth group, pleaded guilty to one count of sexual assault of a child and another count of indecency with a child.
His alleged victim — who met Cain through the church — told police he propositioned her over the Internet and engaged in sexual activity with her six times between 2004 and 2007.
But Cain, 45, was no longer volunteering with the youth group at the time the abuse occurred.
State District Judge Thomas P. Wingate sentenced him to 10 years deferred adjudication on Monday and required him to register as a sex offender.
Cain's attorney, Jose Chapa, said the McAllen resident felt pleading guilty was in his best interest.
"We're glad this ordeal is behind us," he said. "He's ready to put this behind him and move on."
Casso said his campus is just as eager to get beyond their latest legal matters.
"We're going to move forward with the education of the children in a Christian manner," he said. "We take that responsibility very seriously."
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