The Sacramento City Unified School District has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by a special needs student who was sexually molested by his Sam Brannan Middle School teacher.
The student filed suit in 2013 against the district and former special education teacher Preston Howard Lewis complaining that Lewis sexually molested the teen between 2009 and 2010 both in the classroom and later at the teacher’s house. The suit alleged the school district should have known about the teacher’s “dangerous and exploitive propensities.”
“He was groomed and then he was victimized,” the mother of the student said about her son Thursday. The Sacramento Bee is withholding the name of the student and his mother because he was a sexual abuse victim.
“He should have never met Preston Howard Lewis,” the mom added, referring to the district allowing Lewis to teach after he faced past allegations and a Social Services license revocation for sexual misconduct with minors.
The victim’s mother urged that the Legislature allow parents, especially parents of special needs students, to learn about a teacher’s performance and whether a teacher has been placed on administrative leave.
“The horror of horrors is that he (Lewis) was a trusted, valued authority figure,” said Joseph George, the victim’s attorney.
The victim, now 19, was identified only as Marcus Doe in the Sacramento Superior Court lawsuit. He was in Lewis’ special education class in both the seventh and eighth grades. The suit described him as having a low IQ, auditory and speech difficulties and blindness in one eye. He did not tell his parents about the sexual episodes because he did not want the teacher to get in trouble, court records said.
The victim’s mother said her son suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression and anxiety. He continues to live with his family, which has moved outside the district area.
George said the mother of another special needs student complained to the district after her son said Lewis encouraged him to sexually “act out.” That complaint triggered a police investigation that uncovered the abuse against the plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The former teacher is serving a 14-year sentence in Mule Creek State Prison after pleading no contest to three felony counts and one misdemeanor count of childhood sexual abuse.
On March 19, 2007, the state Department of Social Services revoked Lewis’ foster care license. In that instance, according to the suit, the teacher was accused of fondling one boy and showering with another.
The school district learned about the Social Services allegations and placed Lewis on paid administrative leave in May 2007. But the district subsequently retained Lewis.
“At the time, staff called Social Services again and again, and our attorneys called their attorneys,” district spokesman Gabe Ross said. “We were unable to get any information about resolution of this case. All we had was accusations.”
Ross said that in the period since the episode, the district has “strengthened relationships with local law enforcement agencies and improved systems to guard against the likelihood of something like this happening again.”
Ross said the district sponsored a bill by former Assemblyman Roger Dickinson in 2012 that would have streamlined communication between state agencies and school districts, but the measure did not gain traction.
“Our hearts go out to everyone affected by these awful acts committed by the former employee of the district,” Ross said. “The safety and security of students is always our top concern.”
Funds for the district’s legal costs and the settlement came from a pooled insurance fund, Schools Insurance Authority.
The victim’s mother said the settlement does not right the wrongs done to her son.
“The damage is done,” she said. “It’s going to take years to try to get some sense of normalcy.”