Santa Clara Unified Breaks Silence on Dominic Caserta’s Sexual Harassment Scandal

Dominic Caserta is on paid leave pending an independent investigation into claims that he sexually harassed and bullied students, officials confirmed Friday.

“We are aware of our community’s questions and concerns, and we take student and staff safety very seriously,” Santa Clara Unified School District Superintendent Stanley Rose said in a prepared statement. “We have been challenged to immediately and directly respond to these questions and concerns due to confidentiality and due process laws and policies which apply to all of our certificated employees.”

Today’s message marks the first time since San Jose Inside broke news last week of the misconduct claims that the district has publicly mentioned Caserta by name.

“We are appalled and disappointed with these allegations,” the district’s communications staff continued in the email. “We are committed to ensuring that each allegation is thoroughly investigated. We take each and every claim seriously.”

Caserta’s fall from grace was stunningly swift.

The 43-year-old Santa Clara High School civics teacher resigned Tuesday from his Santa Clara Council seat and suspended his June primary bid for Santa Clara County supervisor after scores of former students and campaign volunteers accused him of sexual misconduct and harassment. One woman told police that the candidate pressed his clothed groin against her without her consent. Another accused him of stalking.

Political supporters reacted quickly to the allegations, pulling their endorsements within hours or days of hearing from Caserta’s accusers. The city wasted no time either. City officials invited victims to file police reports—of which there are a dozen so far—and convened a public hearing to invite them to air their grievances in an open forum.

Santa Clara Unified, on the other hand, has mostly responded with canned statements and jargon-laden press releases. That might have something to do with spokeswoman Jennifer Derrico being away on family leave, which began on May 1 and ends July 6. Whatever the case, students and parents have expressed frustration about the muted response from school officials.

While the district did announce that it would form a task force to identify ways to improve its harassment reporting and education, there was no invitation for students or parents to express their concerns in a public hearing. Students in Caserta’s class tell San Jose Inside that the high school made no discernible effort to inform them about their teacher’s absence or who to talk to if they’d like to file their own complaints.

Requests for records that could illustrate the scope of harassment claims against Caserta—as well as other teachers in the district—remain outstanding. SCUSD’s Title IX coordinator, Assistant Superintendent Andrew Lucia, had few ready answers about the district’s compliance with federal reporting guidelines.

Even the governing board has dodged media queries. Trustees directed questions to Board President Noelani Pearl Hunt, who has yet to respond.

Though he also declined San Jose Inside’s request for comment, fellow trustee Mark Richardson at least acknowledged the district’s silence in a Facebook post.

“Many of us have read reports of harassment and mistreatment of our students,” he wrote earlier this week. “Official responses have been made. Comments from the heart are long overdue.”

Richardson thanked the students and parents who spoke out about alleged abuses that stretched from the early 2000s to just this month.

“You should have never been mistreated, your trust should never have been betrayed,” he said. “I condemn any mistreatment of our students, past or present.”

While the district has to uphold a certain level of confidentiality because it’s dealing with a personnel issue, he said he wants to demonstrate that he has students’ interest at heart.

“I can offer you my apology, and I do,” he concluded. “It’s a poor thing to offer you, and I understand if it means very little to you. I would also like to offer you a promise; that promise is I’ll fight to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Caserta has firmly denied all harassment allegations, and tried to frame them as a political attack because they surfaced just weeks away from the June election. His abrupt withdrawal from public life certainly changes the course of the county election, in which he was a frontrunner. It also upends the balance of power in Santa Clara, where Mayor Lisa Gillmor stands to go from a 4-3 to 4-2 majority—and potentially a 5-2 majority, depending on who gets appointed or elected to fill Caserta’s seat.

“I ... serve as a local elected official and when I am campaigning there are often accusations made against me,” Caserta wrote on his campaign website last week. “I unequivocally deny these allegations. They are simply false and made up.”

He has since gone incommunicado.

Meanwhile, Santa Clara Unified is in a tough spot. It faces backlash from students and families who question the decision to keep Caserta employed despite multiple sustained sexual harassment allegations. And it faces legal liability for inadvertently sending out a small portion of Caserta’s personnel file to 1,600 employees, one of whom then forwarded the trove to San Jose Inside.

Savannah Nunez. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

Until SCUSD responds to this newspaper’s California Public Record Act requests, it’s unclear how many complaints have been filed against Caserta in his two decades of teaching.

Leaked documents show that he was investigated for sexual harassment in 2002 and again in 2009 in addition to getting disciplined for policy violations such as soliciting campaign support from students and skipping work without bothering to schedule a substitute.

Savannah Nunez, 28, says she filed two complaints against Caserta in 2006 and 2007, but never heard about their disposition. The claims stemmed from months of relentless harassment, Nunez said, in which Caserta would persistently call her cellphone, stalk her at her waitressing job and once at her house to ask why she was resisting his attention.

Nunez, who acknowledges being a less-than-ideal student, would often skip class to avoid Caserta. But she says her teacher tried to use her academic struggles as leverage to control her, repeatedly trying to urge administrators to prevent her from participating in the graduation ceremony.

But then-Santa Clara High Principal Dave Grissom—who spoke with Nunez at the time, according to her recollection—failed to stop the abuse, which allegedly continued up through the very last day of her high school career.

“Nobody stood up for me, you know?” Nunez said in a phone call earlier this week.

Grissom, who has since left SCUSD to become principal of Mountain View High School, declined a request for comment.

Lydia Jungkind, the 19-year-old German exchange student who was the first to go public with her claims of sexual misconduct against Caserta, said she plans to attend the May 24 school board session to again have her say. According to the agenda for next week’s meeting, the board has set aside time for the public to discuss the harassment claims.

“I think the SCUSD has an obligation to hear out victims that experienced Dominic Caserta’s behavior firsthand,” said Jungkind, who met Caserta last year while he was teaching her political science class at Foothill College. “What he did to me, he did to other students as well.”

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.

26 Comments

  1. SCUSD has finally responded to the Dominic crisis within their midst at the speed of a glacier! One Board member even apologized! The slowness of response is just another artifact of the dysfunction within the system.

    I challenge SCUSD to initiate an immediate culture survey and focus group meetings with all students, parents, and community that is independently crafted, administered, analyzed, and communicated in order to elicit the full extent of sexual harassment, intimidation, bullying, and racism within the system.

    SCUSD should also commit to a full, open, transparent, and independent investigation of sexual harassment, intimidation, bullying, and racism within the system that is not under the direct control of the SCUSD administration for obvious reasons. The investigation should address SCUSD claims of academic excellence by exposing disparities in academic performance in ELA and Math for African Americans/Blacks, Hispanics, Whites, Asians, English Learners, Students with Disabilities, and Economically Disadvantaged students among others through state test performance over 3 years. (http://sipbigpicture.com)

    Formal apologies from Stan, the other Board members, and the District Administration would be nice to see as well.

    Enough is Enough.

  2. Ahhhhhhh, I see. NOW you’re concerned with the safety and welfare of your students… now that this has caught fire and the trail leads to SCHS. Seems to me the administration and district were more committed to protecting a serial sexual predator at the risk of legal action than to protect students. I hope heads roll at the school and the district. Deplorable

    • Nothing will change unless the community rises up. The administration will maintain their venner of consideration for the safety of the students. They will argue that Caserta is a special case and not a systems problem. They will not even apologize. The fix is is already in. Vote for Vickie Fairchild for the Board. Then we might begin to see change! Deplorable situation.

    • It’s all too little too late. We need to start exposing the secrets of this corrupt administration before more people are hurt.

  3. I am sure CTA will not be an acronym we hear in this coming kabuki theater, I am sure.

    “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize”

    said some smart dude somewhere.

  4. Rather begs the question that should be asked in today’s setting: if it took these administrators and teachers so long to move on this, how would they do with a Parkland, Santa Fe type shooting? Guess they could always set up an after the fact task force. Sheesh. Wish I was being cynical, but don’t think I am.

  5. Actually glaciers are retreating today much faster than the SCUSD moved forward!

    Something has always seemed “off” about the district and the way it was run. Had some experience with Wilcox and I truly believe it’s a good school but years earlier had attended a Milliken open house and realized that it was a quasi-private school being run with public money. The school principal seemed to gloat over this fact in a talk to parents afterward: “you can apply, but you really have almost no chance of getting in”, smiles, and the more she talked the more I fumed. For the record, the year we applied, 44 of the open 60 slots went to families already at Milliken or more outrageously to district employee’s children–only 16 slots were open to over 600 applicants for the remained. My position is the district needed to make it less exclusive (expand the “open” schools)-or shut the whole thing down b/c the process was so unfair. That this system was allowed to run the way it was run simply blew my mind.

    • Regarding your comments about Milliken, how is it “outrageous” that the current students and their siblings and the children of people who work in the district get priority over others? It’d be outrageous if they didn’t get priority! And no, my kids don’t go to Milliken, but we are a district family and we do not attend our home school. Thank heaven for sibling priority registration! Without it, your kids very well could end up at different schools not by your choosing. Nobody wants that. As for district employees’ kids getting priority, this has been a policy at a great many districts for ages.

      • Byron,

        My complaints about the way the system worked RE Milliken were public and known. In fact, in conjection with another parent it was the subject of a front page article in the Merc in 2005 (back when people still looked at the print copy.

        The district takes pride in the fact that Milliken is by some measures the top performing elementary school in the state. That itself was the subject of a front page article in the Merc at one point. Parents knew and wanted their kids to go there. But it was tougher to get into from the outside or non-connected than Stanford–it seems.

        Marie,

        Your last point first: I’m aware that the priority for district employee kids has been policy for years. However, that doesn’t make it right or fair. Here’s an analogy for you: I was a son of an airline pilot back in the 60s-80s. I could travel on a ‘dependent’ pass for basically the cost of taxes. However, my ability to travel was limited to seats not being filled by revenue passengers–in other words I had last priority for catching a flight. That seemed fair to me (but it meant that I could be stranded a couple days in, say, London, or New York). IMO, the district should consider the actual residents of the city the “revenue” passengers and be giving them priority over the district employees (who of course may not even live in Santa Clara). Also, it’s very hypocritical of SCUSD to assert that one’s child can get a quality education at any of the elementary schools and then turn around and say that employees get first dibs at the district’s best school.

        Addressing your first point: Sibling priority allows lucky families who “win” the lottery to establish a beachhead at Milliken and receive the best education available in the district for multiple children. Those families are happy–clearly the system works for them. Everyone else in on the outside looking in and resentful. My point is if open schools (which include Washington) can not be more inclusive than the district should look to create more of them (which would be expensive) or simply make it a true lottery (no more sibling priority or district employee preferences), or close them down entirely and make everyone simply attend their home schools.

        Bryon,

        I’ve been out of SC for several years now. I’m sure many people in other districts have their own gripes. However, some of the tone-deafness and unfairness in SCUSD just feels “baked in” and unique in its own way. I observed that other SC parents would cope by enrolling their children into private schools or if they had multiple children, by moving out of the district entirely (of course those more ambitious parents leaving are in all likelyhood the sort of people who the district and city itself should be striving to keep).

  6. I’m sure we need a demonstration or a protest of some kind.

    Maybe we could all protest to the state legislature that SCUSD needs more money for sexual harassment watchdog programs.

    Yes! That’s it! SCUSD needs more money, and it’s FOR THE CHILDREN!!!!

  7. 20 years ago, Caserta used to teach at Aquinas High School in San Bernardino, CA over. He was highly recommended and brought on board by the Principle, Father Andrew Sotelo, S.J., One evening, I was passing my daughter’s bedroom, I heard her talking on the telephone. She was telling whoever was on it, she didn’t want to tell him the color of her underwear. I was shocked and demanded to know who was on the phone. My daughter told me it was Caserta, a teacher at her high school. She was 15 years old at the time. The next morning, I called the office and demanded that Caserta call me, which he did on his lunchtime. He told me that he “loved” my daughter and that he was sure we’d get along great, and that he wanted to marry her! I told him he was f___ing crazy. I called the principal and demanded a meeting. When my wife and I went in to meet with Father Andrew Sotelo, there was a nun at the meeting as well. When I expressed my outrage at Caserta’s behavior, the principle told us that my daughter was pursuing Caserta and it was all documented, and that she better never go into his classroom again. My daughter’s school friends all knew what was happening and confirmed her side that said Caserta pursued her relentlessly. They confirmed he frequently told my daughter to come into his class after hours, even though he was not her teacher. He went into her student file to get our phone #, he even sent her a letter saying he wanted to f___ her! I threatened to go to the local newspaper, but the principle said it would stop. I think Caserta left after that year. Some years later, Andrew Sotelo was on an episode of 60 minutes for sexual harassment. Look up his name on Google. He currently is a student advisor at Culver City School District.

    • Please, for the love of all that is good and just, email Jennifer Wadsworth, the reporter covering this story. Your voice and that of your daughter’s experience are vitally important to stopping this from happening and holding him accountable. Please, please, please reach out. I beg you….

    • I’m so sorry. The fact that this type of behavior was not only ignored but defended by these people. This is disgusting, please share your story with the authorities

  8. Caserta is arguably a reptile.

    But I would not hold out much hope that he will face any serious consequences anytime soon, other than being denied election to another public office.

    The fundamental problem is that the public education system is a unionized monopoly owned by the Democratic Party.

    Caserta is TRIPLE protected:

    1. the public education system is a monopoly. The “customers” of the monopoly have no power. The public education system can simply say: “Caserta is one of us, we’ll handle it, and anyone who doesn’t like the way we run things can go to hell.”

    2. Caserta is a teacher and protected by the teachers union.

    3. Caserta is a Democrat. He is not just a “registered” Democrat voter. He is a Democrat Party MEMBER. If Caserta goes down, the Democrat Party receives a black eye. The Democrat Party owns the the teachers union (or, vice versa); the teachers union owns the public education system. (News bulletin: the teachers union works hard to get THEIR candidates elected to school boards.) Therefore, the Democrat Party OWNS the public education establishment.

    Bottom line: those who expect Caserta to experience some “serious consequences” are likely to be disappointed. The School District/union/Democrat Party triad will cry a few crocodile tears, flog themselves with a nerf bat, and put Caserta in the cooler for awhile until things blow over. But, expect that Caserta will land on his feet somewhere, on the public dime, as a member of a (well-paid} member of a state commission or some such.

  9. So, where is Professor Michele Dauber and her gang of identity politics bullies?

    http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2016/09/02/protest-held-at-jail-after-release-of-stanford-rapist-brock-turner/

    If Judge Aaron Persky is deserving of progressive blitzkreig for merely doing by-the-book judge work, how much more deserving of all-out blitzkreig are the protectors and enables of reptilian horndog Dominic Casera?

    Where’s the Dauber treatment for:

    1. the California public education monopoly
    2. the California Teachers Union
    3 the Democratic Party

    Enablers and protectors, Michele.

    • Dauber is a one off as a friend of the complaining witness in that case. She wrote the probation impact statement.

    • > The roll of the teachers’ union is to assure due process for its members.

      So, protecting and enabling Caserta is “due process” for teachers?

      So, as long as he didn’t grope a teacher he’s OK by CTA standards?

      ‘When school children start paying union dues, that ‘s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children.’

      Albert Shanker

      • Anne,
        I am assuming, by your response, that you are a member of UTSC (United Teachers of Santa Clara) or some other union. If you are a veteran in education you know that what you wrote is the party line response to critique of union protection of rogue/ misbehaving teachers. If you are not a veteran teacher and just new and naiive, your wisdom will come from experience. In reality, the role of UTSC/Michael Hickey is to bombastically scream “due process” as loud as he can while knowing that nothing is really going to happen to Dominic because of the SCUSD/UTSC contract language and because of the bad bahavior clock resetting every four years for self-absorbed predators like him.

        • It is truly a tragedy that Caserta will not be held accountable for his sexual predatory actions against children – protected by contract and due process. At best this travesty will be represented, and is currently being perceived by the public as a one-off bad actor. In reality, we all know that this is a systemic problem within SCUSD. I worked within SCUSD and can attest to the culture of Me First, Friends First, Family First. Sloths like Stan Rose who feed off the public teat will wait it all out (Thank goodness summer is coming!) underneath an unctuous and self-righteous veneer of caring for the children. Scum like Stan could actually care less. He will not even apologize for for the disgusting actions that occurred on HIS watch. If he were a man, he would resign but he is a political lizard like the rest of the reptiles that “work” and prowl within SCUSD. Who is taking care of the Children? It will happen again because we are not identifying and addressing the root cause of the problems and we will all play the same music once again! Let’s just wait and hope it all goes away!

  10. Where were the police and District Attorney during all these allegations?
    Now, a simple complaint will land a guy in jail awaiting trial.

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