A former Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District student’s lawsuit alleging it failed to protect her from a janitor’s molestation by covering up years of his behavior is still valid 12 years after the fact because it targets the district’s actions rather than the abuser, her attorneys argued in court papers filed Wednesday.
The district wants the lawsuit by Roxanne Pedro dismissed as untimely because it was not filed until after the six-month statute of limitations as calculated by her 2001 molestation. However, attorneys say the suit actually dates from the time Pedro learned of the district’s alleged lack of action which wasn’t until May 2013 after former janitor Andre Edwards was convicted of molesting her and groping another student in 2010.
“The district either misunderstands the complaint or is trying to shoehorn it with a legal technicality,” said Pedro’s attorney Ryan Erickson.
The lawsuit names several current and former employees including County Superintendent Anne Campbell, the former Belmont-Redwood Shores superintendent.
A hearing on the district’s dismissal request known as a demurrer is scheduled for May 6.
The district contends that Pedro waited so long after her molestation to file a July 2013 claim and then a lawsuit that key witnesses have either died, moved to parts unknown or left its employment. Pedro, now an adult, knew from the time of the act that she had been wronged even if Edwards was not prosecuted but failed to act, according to the district.
The district, however, contends Pedro did not file a claim within six months of the 2001 molestation, within six months of Edwards’ March 2011 arrest or within six months of her 2011 interview by Belmont police detectives in connection to his criminal case.
“We don’t dispute that at the times Mr. Edwards abused her she knew it was wrong and she commendably told a trusted adult. What she didn’t know is the number of repeat incidents and that others had been abused,” Erickson said. “In a way, the district is kind of trying to benefit from their own cover-up.”
The suit claims the district knew that Edwards committed at least eight separate incidents of sexual misconduct involving at least six students while employed but took “affirmative steps” to hide his history such as sealing a 1996 investigation and not contacting police.
When Pedro was 12, in May 2001, Edwards reportedly touched her inappropriately while she worked on a book report in his office. She told school authorities and police were alerted but charges were never filed because of questions over credibility. In 2010, he groped a student’s breast and buttocks, leading to his arrest and a revisit of Pedro’s allegations. He pleaded no contest to two counts of felony false imprisonment and one count of misdemeanor child annoyance in return for nine months jail and sex offender treatment to settle both cases.
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.
Tom DeLapp, the district’s spokesman on this issue, said it has yet to see the response but stands by its earlier comment. DeLapp previously told the Daily Journal the statute of limitations is meant to protect “against overly stale claims like this one.”
DeLapp also said the district took “reasonable steps” to keep Edwards from being alone with students after the 1996 complaint but was legally barred from more serious action based on rumors or innuendo.
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