Saturday, February 25 , 2017, 9:45 pm | Fair 47º


Local News

Former Laguna Blanca Student Sues School for Not Reporting Alleged Sexual Abuse

A Hope Ranch private school is being sued, accused of not properly training teachers to report sexual abuse after a teacher reportedly heard about the alleged abuse of a student and did not report it. According to the lawsuit, the young woman was again victimized by a former teacher several weeks later.

Laguna Blanca School, located at 4125 Paloma Drive, is being sued for negligence and is listed as a defendant in a lawsuit filed July 25 in Santa Barbara County Superior Court.

The filing names Jane Doe as a plaintiff and, in addition to the school, lists as defendants teacher Martha Elliott and an unidentified suspect accused of victimizing the then-student.

Elliott declined to comment and referred questions to Laguna Blanca Head of School Rob Hereford, who did not respond to Noozhawk’s requests for comment.

The complaint alleges that the student began attending Laguna Blanca in seventh grade in the fall of 2008. She was a junior in high school during the 2012-13 school year, and Elliott is listed as her 11th-grade history teacher.

That year, the complaint said, the student would take her lunch breaks in Elliott’s classroom with other students. During one of those breaks, she told two other students that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of being sexually molested.

Elliott asked the girl if the molestation had been reported or if she had told her parents, and she said no.

“Just weeks after the plaintiff told Elliott she had been molested, near the end of her junior year at Laguna Blanca, plaintiff fell victim to an adult sexual predator, who also happened to be a former Laguna Blanca teacher who the plaintiff trusted,” the complaint states.

“The plaintiff also told this former teacher that she had previously been molested and he took advantage of this information and preyed on the plaintiff's weakness,” adding that she was seduced into performing various sexual acts with him on three separate occasions while she was 17.

The lawsuit maintains that the school was negligent by failing to train its employees on mandatory reporting requirements.

If the girl’s report of molestation had been properly reported, she might not have been re-victimized, according to the victim’s attorney, Elizabeth O’Brien.

All schools, whether public or private, have a legal obligation to report suspected sex crimes to law enforcement, she said.

“They are mandated by law to do so,” she said, adding that both private and public schools are required to conduct training on reporting laws before a teacher can work one day in a school.

“Presumably this wasn’t done or she didn’t follow the rules,” O’Brien said of Elliott.

O’Brien said the victim is committed to getting the proper treatment, and “is doing her best to recover but she still suffers daily.”

O’Brien said the former teacher was not working at the school at the time of the alleged abuse, and the victim reached out to him because he was “in a position of trust,” only to be taken advantage of.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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