Content warning: sexual assault.
Two former students at Sylvia Mendez Elementary School are suing BUSD for alleged childhood sexual assault, battery, harassment and negligence from 35 years ago.
The two plaintiffs — Kandyce Robinson and an anonymous woman named only as “Jane Doe” — allege they were repeatedly sexually abused by a teacher’s aide at Sylvia Mendez Elementary School, which was then called LeConte Elementary School. At the time of each of their alleged assaults, Robinson was an approximately four-year-old kindergartener, and Doe, who was roughly seven years old, was enrolled in a LeConte after-school program.
“When you go to school, I feel like it’s the school’s job to protect you. It’s not something that should just be swept under the rug,” Robinson said. “We had a lot of things that other schools did not have, a lot of opportunities. But there was a lot of hurt that happened there … I feel like it was totally neglected.”
The perpetrator allegedly gave “special attention” to both plaintiffs and would frequently remove each from their respective classes for extended periods during which he would assault them, according to the complaint.
The allegations comprise two separate periods of alleged abuse — Doe’s in 1989 and Robinson’s in 1987. Brian Williams, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, noted that they originally had one plaintiff and found the other after an investigation, hypothesizing that more victims may exist.
“What stands out about this case in a very tragic way is the age of my two clients at the time,” said Williams. “When you hear these ages and what the actual abuse was, it’s really just an awful thing.”
According to the lawsuit, Robinson reported her assault around 1992, when she was roughly ten years old. The school, the lawsuit alleges, took no action in response to Robinson’s report.
The lawsuit is aimed at the alleged sexual abuse itself, but also at what it calls BUSD’s negligent response to it. The alleged behavior of the perpetrator, including his disappearance with Robinson and Doe for extended periods of time, was a “red flag” that should have caused teachers and administrators to intervene, according to the complaint.
“Growing up in Berkeley is always painted so nice,” Doe said. “They don’t talk about the ugly stuff that happens in that good community.”
As of press time, BUSD has not responded to requests for comment.
The lawsuit, which deals with incidents from decades ago, is made possible by Assembly Bill 218, according to Williams. The bill, approved in 2019, substantially increases the amount of time that survivors are allowed to file suit after childhood sexual assault occurs.
“These two women are prime examples of why that law exists,” Williams said. “Survivors of assault, they don’t work from an arbitrary deadline like a statute of limitation. The reality is the California legislature has recognized that it takes years or decades for survivors to come forward.”