Donations More Than Double for San Jose Catholic Girls School Accused of Ignoring Sex Abuse

A prestigious San Jose Catholic girls school accused of mishandling sexual abuse claims reports that financial support has more than doubled—even as new allegations come to light. Donors angered by the accusers have reportedly chipped in $126,000 to Presentation High School’s crowdfunding campaign.

“The support for Pres has never been stronger,” the school’s Alumnae Director Kristin Cooke Schneider said in a statement published earlier this week. “Pres alums, past and current parents, past and current teachers, and community members have a positive shared experience and they sent that message loud and clear.”

The doubling in donations comes amid new allegations that Presentation ignored numerous sexual abuse claims involving a theater teacher, Jeffrey Hicks, who left the school in 2004. The teacher went on to teach at a private San Mateo school for disabled children, and in 2014 was convicted of child molestation and possessing child pornography and is now a registered sex offender.

Critics, who formed a group called “Make Pres Safe,” say Hicks admitted to Presentation Principal Mary Miller that he fondled a student.

Presentation spokesman Sam Singer dismissed the new charge, saying the school conducted a thorough background check before hiring the teacher.

The school has been under fire since last fall, when former student Kathryn Leehane penned a column for the Washington Post about how administrators handled her complaint in the 1990s. The op-ed prompted other students to come forward with allegations of abuse.

As of now, there are more than 20 former students accusing either former staffers of sexual abuse or harassment, according to a timeline on the Make Pres Safe website.

Presentation High officials say they have no record of many of the claims brought by the 20-plus victims in recent months, and that they have followed state law, which requires them to report suspected child abuse to authorities. The San Jose Police Department is reportedly investigating the school to see if it upheld its mandatory reporting duties.

A letter to Presentation High from the coalition of accusers asked the community to withhold donations to the prestigious school until administrators authorize an independent investigation into the charges. Schneider, however, says the letter backfired.

“The ‘Make Pres Safe’ letter writing campaign infuriated people who felt their privacy was invaded and that they were being harassed and bullied into withdrawing their support from the school,” she said.

“We've never seen a response like this,” Schneider said. “‘Make Pres Safe' sent out letters and contacted alums and other donors to urge them to withhold donations, but just the opposite occurred.”

Allegations involving another local parochial school surfaced last year when a former student accused a recently deceased teacher of grooming her into a sexual relationship.

The claims prompted Bellarmine College Prep boys school to drop plans to rename its $30 million theater after the late Tom Alessandri, a widely loved performing arts instructor. The victim has since said other former students approached her with similar allegations against the teacher, whose theater program included students from the all-girls Notre Dame High School.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

5 Comments

  1. The problem is the Catholic Church is riddled with cover-ups of child molestation.The convicted pedophile, and former KGO talk show host, Bernie Ward, was a teacher at Bellarmine, under the same umbrella of Presentation High School. It was a very poorly kept secret back then about what was going on. The San Jose Diocese answers to one power, and that is who is willing to pay the most to the church. They are, in my opinion, corrupt. Bishop Patrick J. McGrath is controlled by those families within the Church who are long time movers and shakers in San Jose business and politics, who pay the bills. If you want an example, look at his decision a couple years ago to close down Saint Lawrence High School, unannounced, in the middle of the school year, leaving four hundred students and their families in turmoil. Saint Lawrence was a small school serving students who did not fit into the big school atmosphere, and was always looked down upon by the other high schools, as well as the RCC. The families were more of the blue collar, middle class, variety, rather than the blue blood families at the larger Catholic High Schools. The decision to close Saint Lawrence made by him, and the panic and turmoil caused to the family, was immoral. The RCC hired a PR firm who told them the best thing to do was tell the students first their school was closing, rather than parents, which the principal did at the beginning of a school day, leaving frantic students calling their parents. Regarding what is happening at Presentation, due to the track history of covering up other documented and substantiated molestation involving Catholic schools and Churches in the South Bay, I take the word of the accusers and hope anybody who put a hand on any of them is put in prison forever.

    Reply

    • They have a list of the donors on the site – as you’d expect, many of them were the accused administration and staff members, basically trying to create a facade of large community donations. Fairly typical for Pres.

  2. Jeff Hicks should be in Prison where he belongs. My heart breaks for the injustice that these girls suffered at the very hands of those who were supposed to protect them!

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