Student Well-Being

Principal Charged With Ignoring Possible Child Abuse

By Mark Stricherz — December 13, 2000 3 min read
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Clarification (added April 17, 2002):
The misdemeanor charges reported in this story have since been dismissed against the principal, Corazon Rodil, according to authorities, because the statute of limitations had expired between the time the alleged reporting violation occurred and the date the charge was filed.

Ms. Rodil, then the principal of Anne Darling Elementary School in San Jose, Calif., informed law-enforcement officials of allegations against 5th grade teacher Mario Duarte in 2000. During their investigation, police said they found that Ms. Rodil had previously learned about allegations against Mr. Duarte, but did not report them. The charges against Ms. Rodil stemmed from the earlier period.

Mr. Duarte later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 19 years in prison for molesting five children between 1998 and 2000.

A San Jose, Calif., principal has been charged with a misdemeanor for not telling authorities about a teacher at her school who was suspected of molesting students.

Corazon Rodil, the principal at Anne Darling Elementary School for eight years, was charged with failing to report possible child abuse. After surrendering herself to police on Nov. 24, she posted $5,000 bail.

Ms. Rodil was placed on paid leave in June, after three girls allegedly told the principal that Mario Duarte, a 5th grade teacher, had touched them during the school day. The principal did not report the girls’ charges to district officials, police said. They said officials learned of the allegations against Mr. Duarte from other teachers at the school.

Under California law, those who work with children— such as educators and doctors—must notify child-protection authorities about possible child abuse. In addition, the policy of the 33,000-student district calls for employees to report “suspected staff member involvement” in possible cases of abuse to the district.

In September, Ms. Rodil was put on unpaid leave and replaced as the school’s principal, said William J. Erlendson, a spokesman for the district, which is now moving to dismiss her. Neither Ms. Rodil nor her lawyer could be reached for comment last week. She could face up to six months in the county jail if found guilty of the charge.

“Rodil made it quite clear that she looked into it, and she did all that was asked of her,” Sgt. David Hewitt, head of the San Jose Police Department’s sexual-assault unit, said of Ms. Rodil’s response to police.

Police suspect Mr. Duarte of fondling at least seven girls since starting to teach at the school in September 1998, Sgt. Hewitt said. Complaints against Mr. Duarte for “inappropriately touching” female students go back as far as December 1998, he added.

Mr. Duarte has been charged with multiple counts of felony sexual abuse and faces trial next month. One charge alleges that Mr. Duarte engaged in “substantial sexual conduct” with a female student, said David Davies, the head of the homicide and sexual-assault division of the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office. The former teacher could face 25 years to life in prison.

Training Offered

Anne Darling Elementary School, located in downtown San Jose, enrolls 700 students in grades K-5, most of whom are from low-income families of Hispanic or Portuguese backgrounds.

The San Jose case comes on the heels of a similar case in Phoenix, where Joanne Talazus, the principal of Longview Elementary School, pleaded guilty earlier this year to failing to tell authorities about a teacher suspected of molesting students. (“Ariz. Principal Convicted of Failing To Report Suspected Abuse,” July 12, 2000.)

School observers said that, notwithstanding such cases, it’s rare for principals to be prosecuted for failing to report allegations of student abuse.

District officials in San Jose said they provide plenty of training about the state policy on reporting abuse. School employees receive four pages specifying the requirement each year, and principals are told about the policy before each school year, Mr. Erlendson said.

Some experts worry that principals aren’t trained in how to look for abuse. “If they don’t see it, their mind’s not clicking into it,” said Mary Ann Werner, the founder of Survivors of Educator Sexual Abuse and Misconduct Emerge, a Copake, N.Y.-based organization known as SESAME.

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A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2000 edition of Education Week as Principal Charged With Ignoring Possible Child Abuse

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