A San Bruno child care facility owner tried to dissuade the parents of a 5-year-old student from involving authorities after a male classmate touched the girl inappropriately and even joked about being invited to the “kids’ wedding,” according to a civil lawsuit filed by the family.
The suit also claims Mary Johnson, the owner of Happy Hall School on Santa Inez Avenue, lied to other school parents about the circumstances after a state agency mandated she alert them and acted as though police officers doing follow-up investigation were “simply there for career day.”
“The letter makes it sound like it was once and only two kids playing doctor. That’s not what happened,” said the girl’s mom, identified as Jane Roe to protect her daughter’s identity.
The girl, who had been enrolled at Happy Hall School since 2010, left 30 days shy of the 2012 school year end because of incidents and is still processing what happened with the boy and the school, Roe said.
Roe said she was driving with her daughter when the girl shared that in April 2012 a boy in her class had taken off her clothes and touched her inappropriately.
“My jaw dropped,” she said.
The parents also learned the girl allegedly had the same thing happen numerous times previously in several on-campus locations like a play yard tunnel and log cabin, behind a cupboard door and under a table when the children were unsupervised.
Roe said she told Johnson in a tearful meeting and was shocked that the owner didn’t seem to understand her responsibility as a mandated reporter. Johnson refused to remove the boy from the school or the girl’s play group and instead argued it “was not always in the families’ best interest to get the authorities involved.” The suit also claims Johnson “had the gall” to jokingly tell the mother to “be sure to ‘invite her to the [kids’] wedding.’”
“I was just floored. I couldn’t believe it because she was certainly not reacting to this the way I was, that this was a violation,” Roe said.
On April 27, the California Department of Social Services validated claims the girl’s personal rights were violated by lack of supervision and issued a written investigative report including recommendations like that staff remind children about inappropriate behavior and send parents a letter.
The April 30 letter from Johnson said a family reported their child being touched but did not specify how many times. The letter also said the parents met with a pediatrician and therapist who recommended the girl remain at the school.
Roe took issue with both.
“It makes it sound like this was two kids playing doctor. It was not,” Roe said. “And her therapist specifically said she should not go back to the school if the boy is there.”
Following the state investigation, the school repositioned some of its equipment so that it could see the students at all times.
Roe and her husband pulled the girl out of the school about a month shy of the school year but Johnson did not refund any of the $1,100 monthly tuition, the suit stated.
The girl couldn’t say goodbye to her friend and teachers and birthday parties were off limits because they didn’t know if the boy would be there, Roe said.
This past summer, Roe said her daughter and the boy ended up at the same summer day camp after which she reached out to his parents about the earlier alleged incidents.
It was the first they had heard of it, Roe said.
Roe said she is frustrated and alarmed by the situation not just for her own child but out of concern for what issues might need resolution on the boy’s behalf or other children who might be put in similar circumstances.
Johnson was not available for comment. The interim director returned an inquiry but did not respond to questions about the lawsuit. Happy Hall was established in 1951 and serves children 18 months to sixth-grade. Johnson began as executive director in 1976 followed by owner in 1990, according to the school’s website.
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