Trustees from the Moraga School District in eastern Contra Costa County have apologized today for insinuating that a student was partially to blame for her own sexual abuse at the hands of a former teacher that took place over a four year period starting in 1996. The victim, Kristen Cunnane of Walnut Creek, came forth with the accusations in 2010 after she started experiencing severe anxiety and depression due to the memory of a relationship with former Joaquin Moraga Middle School gym teacher Julie Correa.

Correa eventually pled no contest to four felony charges of sexual abuse and was sentenced to eight years in state prison for the four-year pattern of abuse. Earlier this year, Cunnane filed suit against the school district claiming administrators — and Correa herself — were aware of significant accusations of sexual abuse lodged against another teacher Daniel Witters and neglected to do anything about it. Between 1994 and 1996, at least six girls had come forward to accuse Witters of sexual abuse. During the ensuing investigation and media scandal, Witters was found dead after driving his truck off a cliff on Highway 1 in Big Sur in an apparent suicide.

In their defense against Cunnane's current suit, the Moraga School District attempted to place part of the blame for the abuse on Cunnane herself. In a documents filed late last month, attorneys for the school district claimed Cunnane was "was herself careless and negligent in and about the matters alleged in the complaint, and that said carelessness and negligence on said Plaintiff's part proximately contributed to the happenings of the incident." Another document filed by the defense read, "Defendants allege that (Cunnane) was herself responsible for the acts and damages of which she claims."

According to the school district's defense team, the accusatory "affirmative defenses" were necessary in case they hoped to use them in the future and the aggressive legal tactic would help protect their client from a large payout to the victim that could hurt the school district's budget. Today, the district's Board of Trustees voted to withdraw the two controversial defenses.

With the victim-blaming statements withdrawn, Vice President Charles MacNulty announced the board's apology, stating: "The governing board has directed its attorney to withdraw the defense of comparative fault and any assertion of carelessness or negligence on the part of Ms. Cunnane... The Governing Board and its attorneys, Stubbs and Leone, apologize to Ms. Cunnane for any anxiety or distress caused by the inclusion of this defense in its response to her pleading." Although the suit is still ongoing, Cunnane thanked the public for their recent outpouring of support. "We appreciate the apology and are pleased that the District is formally withdrawing the defenses," Cunnane's attorney said today. "We hope this signals the start of a more productive dialogue."

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[Lomorinda Patch]