Testimony in Support of The SAFE Act

California Senate Committee on Education

April 11, 2018 Hearing

SB 1456: Sexual Abuse-Free Education Act

Testimony by Kathryn Leehane

 

Good morning Chairman and members. My name is Kate Leehane, and I was sexually abused by an educator at Presentation High School, a prestigious Catholic all-girls school in San Jose, California. When I was a teenager, my Spanish teacher, John Fernandez, inappropriately touched me, kissed me, and showed me pornography. I was not his only victim. He also sexually harassed, abused, and assaulted other young girls as well. Though we complained to the administration about him over several years, they never contacted the authorities. They allowed him to stay at the school—and even awarded him “Teacher of the Year.”

I recently wrote about my experience in The Washington Post, and over the past six months, an alarming pattern of sexual misconduct—spanning more than three decades—has surfaced at Presentation High School. Dozens of people have come forward to report over 20 instances of sexual abuse involving over 12 Presentation High School abusers. Accusations on MakePresSafe.com range from harassment to inappropriate touching and kissing to rape.

The most shocking part is that past and present principals, Marian Stuckey and Mary Miller didn’t report these incidents—some as recent as 2017—to authorities as required by law. They allowed our abusers to stay at the school and/or quietly move on to other schools. They simply passed the trash.

Jeffrey Hicks is a particularly egregious example of this.

In 2004, Presentation High School was notified of sexual misconduct by Jeffery Hicks, the Performing Arts Director. Despite numerous sexual abuse allegations—and his own admission that he fondled a student—Presentation High School failed to notify law enforcement and allowed Hicks to quietly finish the school year and teach a summer program where he was witnessed engaging in additional predatory behavior.

Because Hicks was able to leave Presentation High School with a clean record, he was hired at Stanbridge Academy, a San Mateo school for children with learning disabilities. There, Hicks was placed on leave for exchanging Facebook messages about masturbation with a 14-year-old student. The head of the school also found a CD on Hicks’ desk containing pornographic videos. Hicks was convicted and sentenced to six months in jail for keeping child pornography and sexual misconduct. He is now a lifetime registered sex offender.

This tragedy was entirely preventable.

And that is why I am here today. I am speaking for the dozens of victims of harassment and abuse at Presentation High School and in our wider community.

Our stories are the result of a tragically-flawed system that allows institutions to protect their reputations and sexual abusers rather than children. Schools should be the safest place for children to learn and grow. But far too many of us are suffering life-long trauma because pedophiles aren’t thoroughly vetted during the hiring process.

I want better protections for the current and future generations of school children. School should be a haven, not a hell. That is why I support strengthening mandatory reporting laws. And that is why I support the SAFE Act—and ask you to as well.

Thank you again for the opportunity to speak today. And thank you for your attention on this most serious matter.