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.