The Belmont-Redwood Shores School District knew that a former Ralston Middle School janitor had been sexually inappropriate with several girls before being jailed for groping a student in 2010, according to a lawsuit by a former student who claims her 2001 assault would have been prevented had officials acted on earlier incidents.
Roxanne Pedro, now an adult, said in the suit filed Wednesday that the district and employees including now County Superintendent Anne Campbell not only turned “a blind eye to [Andre] Edwards’ propensity for abuse” but also took “affirmative steps” to hide his history such as sealing a 1996 investigation and not contacting police.
In July 2013, Edwards, 55, was sentenced to nine months in jail plus sex offender treatment but not registration. He was originally charged with multiple counts of child molestation but settled the case by pleading no contest to two counts of felony false imprisonment and one misdemeanor count of child annoyance
In that case, Edwards reportedly cupped the breast and buttocks of a female student. Edwards joined the school in September 1987 and retired in February 2011 after his arrest. At the time, authorities referenced Pedro’s 2001 case as a previous allegation but said it was not prosecuted for lack of corroboration.
The suit claims that the district knew that Edwards, while employed by it, committed at least eight separate incidents of sexual misconduct involving at least six students.
In addition to Campbell, who was Ralston principal from 1990 to 1997 and district superintendent from 1997 to 2003, the suit also names former district director of business services Jeffrey Keuscher, former assistant principal Daniel Lyttle, former vice principal Lawrence Glendenning and former principal Jayne Ann Chelberg.
According to Pedro’s suit, on May 29, 2001, when she was 12 and working on a book report in Edwards’ office, he asked her a series of inappropriate and graphic questions and stuck his fingers inside her underwear. The act left her traumatized and placed her on a path that led her good academics to crumble and into an abusive relationship with a much older man and pregnancy at age 13, according to the suit.
Edwards was popular on campus and began grooming Pedro by friendliness and seeking her help with tasks like paperwork and lunch service, according to the suit. On the day in question, he locked his office door and touched her before she could flee. Pedro claims she told Chelberg, who was skeptical and that school and district officials only contacted the Belmont Police Department after learning her mother was determined to report the incident. Edwards told police Pedro had asked him to buy alcohol and cigarettes for her. Pedro said the police were also skeptical and she returned to a hostile environment at school while charges were never filed.
In May 2013, Pedro learned from his probation report in the newest case about his alleged conduct prior to her incident and that the district failed to take action, according to the suit.
Edwards’ alleged history listed in the suit includes a 1991 investigation for inappropriate sexual misconduct with a female Ralston student; his firing in 1992 from an assistant janitor position at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center for peeping under a curtain at a group of teenage girls undressing in the locker room; groping and kissing a student he coached on the Ralston girls’ basketball team in 1993 under the guise of discussing her grades and sexually harassing multiple female students between 1992 and 1996.
The district launched an investigation led by Campbell, Keuscher and a teacher of Edwards in response to the detailed harassment claims and found them “unsubstantiated.” However, the final report included a recommendation to devise a safety plan that includes establishing “procedures ... for Edwards’ supervision of school service aids, his contact with students and the use of his office space,” the suit states.
In early 2001, the suit claims Edwards asked a fellow custodian to remove a pornographic magazine from his desk when the district renovated his office. The magazine was reportedly delivered to Keuscher and Campbell and the same day a maintenance supervisors also found a used condom beneath Edwards’ desk.
That May, Pedro made her claim against Edwards which the suit argues was the fifth or sixth time in a decade the district had learned of his sexual misconduct. In March 2005, a coworker reportedly found Edwards in the gym early in the morning with a female student and in November 2010 Edwards was accused of the groping that eventually led to his arrest and conviction.
Pedro told the Daily Journal in a prepared statement she is suing to give other victims courage to speak out and break a “culture of denial” in schools and districts.
“This culture, in which teachers and administrators look the other way or fail to follow proper procedures, only enables abusers. I hope this lawsuit will encourage school districts everywhere to do everything in their power to keep children safe,” Pedro said.
Michael Milliken, Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District superintendent, said the district needs to review the lawsuit before publicly discussing it. Campbell did not return inquiries for comment.
Pedro’s attorneys said the district made “a willful decision” to protect “a sexual predator who was on their payroll for almost 25 years” rather than its young student.
“The district needs to take responsibility for its failure to protect Roxanne from her abuser and compensate her for the horrific abuse she underwent,” said attorney Ryan Erickson, of Lewis & Llewellyn, the law firm representing Pedro.
In July 2013, Pedro filed a claim against the district which was denied. In September, the district Board of Trustees discussed setting a higher standard for state-required training on mandated reporting for child abuse and neglect.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102