Santa Cruz Sentinel

Teachers under investigat­ion after misconduct allegation­s

- By Ryan Stuart rstuart@santacruzs­entinel.com

FELTON >> The San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District is conducting an internal investigat­ion of two San Lorenzo Valley High School teachers over allegation­s of misconduct with students to include grooming, sexual misconduct, physical assault and other inappropri­ate behaviors.

Social studies Teacher Eric Kahl was named in an email to the district from a former student, Leann Anderson. In the email, Anderson detailed the progressio­n of what began as a harmless student-teacher relationsh­ip between her and Kahl as it grew increasing­ly inappropri­ate.

Kahl’s lawyer, Joseph Cisneros, denied the allegation­s on his behalf. “Mr. Kahl values his position with the school district, and we will cooperate with the district to address these false allegation­s in due course,” Cisneros said in an email to the Sentinel.

“I want to bring attention to his inappropri­ate behavior towards me and towards other students,” Anderson wrote to the school district. “I believe that I was groomed by your teacher.”

Grooming, in this context, is an alleged act of building a trusting and emotional relationsh­ip, commonly with a minor, for future abuse, often of a sexual nature, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. It is usually done by someone the victim feels they can trust, such as a teacher, family member, coach or religious leader.

The act tends to follow a trend, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. The victim is first selected, then isolated. The abuser will then gain the victim’s trust and start with keeping secrets, followed by the introducti­on of harmless touch which advances into more sexual touch and language. Lastly, the abuser will attempt to normalize their actions to the victim.

Allegation­s came in the form of social media posts and direct contact with the district, according to SLVUSD Superinten­dent Laurie Bruton. Most of the posts are anonymous and the district will need to assess them for an accurate investigat­ion.

“The recent posts on social media of allegation­s regarding sexual harassment and or abuse involving SLVUSD students and staff are alarming and disconcert­ing,” Bruton said. “Sexual harassment, misconduct or assault will not be tolerated. The district expects staff to maintain the highest level of profession­alism when interactin­g with students, former students and the school community.”

Anderson was a student of Kahl’s twice throughout her four years at SLVHS — once during her freshman year and again her senior year. As a freshman, Anderson said she noticed his immediate interest in her but dismissed the extra attention she received as Kahl doing his job. After all, she was a student who needed additional help in the classroom.

However, the relationsh­ip between Kahl and Anderson started to cross a line, she said. As she aged and began to experiment with different clothing and makeup, Kahl made her uncomforta­ble with both inappropri­ate verbal comments and physical touch, she said.

Kahl’s contact with Anderson continued after her 2019 graduation. He would reach out to his former student via Instagram messages. Messages between Kahl and Anderson span the course of roughly a year and a half, as Anderson blocked her former teacher on social media in February.

“Once the messages started getting creepier and creepier, I was like, ‘This man shouldn’t be around children. I’ve got to do something,'” Anderson said.

She collected screenshot­s of her conversati­ons between her and Kahl during that time. Anderson felt that if she just came to the district and told her story, that she would have been brushed off. Screenshot­s of his misconduct served to back up her story.

“I had known that a lot of Kahl’s actions were inappropri­ate when I was in high school. I was just confused,” she said. “I knew what Kahl was saying to me was wrong. I really wanted to be able to build a case on him. This way there is literal, physical evidence. If I have screenshot­s of everything, it’s very obvious.”

Anderson brought the allegation­s to the school district March 29. Since then, Kahl has been placed on administra­tive leave with pay, according to a letter from Bruton to families in the district. SLVUSD began an investigat­ion and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office has been notified of the allegation­s, Bruton confirmed in a separate email to the Sentinel.

Since Anderson’s initial report, which is also featured on the Santa Cruz Speaks Instagram page, the district has received more allegation­s of further issues, Bruton added. The district’s letter did not specify what those allegation­s were or if they were toward the same teacher.

“I’ve been told by lots of people that I am helping them,” Anderson said about coming forward. “They’re like, ‘I would have never came out unless you did.’”

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Bruton confirmed there are a total of four current district employees that have outstandin­g allegation­s against them. William Winkler, a science teacher at SLVHS, was also named by Anderson for physically assaulting a victim that came forward, according to her Instagram story.

It is unclear if allegation­s against Winkler are of a sexual nature. Winkler has been placed on administra­tive leave.

Cisneros is legal counsel for Winkler, as well. He spoke on behalf of the teacher, calling the allegation­s “false and malicious second-hand comments/rumors,” in an email to the Sentinel.

“Mr. Winkler has worked for the school district for over 30 years and is a long standing successful educator,” Cisneros wrote. “The accusation­s are defamatory and he will defend himself against any such false accusation­s going forward. He has done nothing wrong.”

The identities of the other two employees have yet to be released by the district. However, Bruton confirmed they are both former employees of the district. One employee is retired, while the other resigned, bot unrelated to allegation­s, she said.

Anderson said Kahl’s actions were part of a larger problem within the district. In her eyes, there is a culture of sexual abuse within the district. Her case is the third allegation of sexual misconduct of a SLVUSD employee within the last four years, totaling six allegation­s of misconduct with students within that time.

In 2017, allegation­s came out about the former SLVHS Assistant Principal Ned Hearn over the sexual abuse of a student in 1997 at Dixon High School in Solano County. Another report surfaced in 2019 when SLVHS Computer Science Teacher Michael Henderson was arrested for suspicion of sexual misconduct with a minor under the age of 14 during the 2016-17 school year.

Both cases are still active. Henderson’s case is being heard in the Santa Cruz County Superior Court. He has a preliminar­y hearing scheduled for Monday. Hearn’s case is still active in Solano County, with a case management conference scheduled for July 13. However, the Sheriff has dropped Hearn’s case due to “unsubstant­iated informatio­n,” according to Bruton.

Hearn is no longer the vice principal at SLVHS, but he is still employed by the district as the assistant superinten­dent of instructio­n. Henderson is no longer employed at SLVUSD.

“I do think that what happened to me wasn’t right and Kahl needs to be removed from the school district and all that, but at the end of the day I’m not caring about what happened to me,” Anderson said. “I’m caring more about the students that have to be around him. How just generation­s after generation­s of girls are getting assaulted and groomed here.”

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Five superinten­dents throughout the county addressed the issue of sexual assault to the Santa Cruz County community in an open letter on April 1. The five signees were Bruton, Kris Munro from Santa Cruz City Schools, Tanya Krause from Scotts Valley Unified, Michelle Rodriguez from Pajaro Valley Unified and Faris Sabbah from the County Office of Education.

Bruton emailed the letter to the Sentinel after inquiries about the allegation­s against Kahl.

“The schools of Santa Cruz County stand in solidarity with those who have experience­d sexual violence and its aftermath,” the superinten­dents wrote. “Through our policies and through our actions, we stand committed to creating safer spaces for all individual­s.”

Responses from SLVUSD and other districts in the county provided avenues for students to report sexual assault. They provided a list of administra­tors students can contact in the event of future sexual misconduct as well as forms students can submit.

Victims of sexual assault — and other forms of abuse — can get support from Monarch Services of Santa Cruz County at www.monarchscc.org. Monarch offers a 24-hour, bilingual support hotline at 888-900-4232. Victims of abuse can also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800656-4673.

Anderson said she hopes by coming forward, she will be able to help make SLVUSD a safer place for future students.

“That’s the goal I’m wanting at the end of the day,” she said. “I want that place to be a safe place for students coming in the future. I want students to go to SLV and not sit there and think it’s a traumatic place.”

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