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Morgan Hill
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September 30, 2023

Our View: District failed to prevent abuse

The Morgan Hill Unified School District might have saved $8.25 million and prevented the lifelong traumatization of at least three young girls if district leadership had enforced its own training procedures on how to identify and report child molesters like John Loyd, who showed a clear pattern of “grooming” some of his fifth grade students for abuse.

The signs of Loyd’s favoritism toward his victims—a common trait of sexual abuse predators—were clear, and spanned years before the Paradise Valley Elementary School teacher was busted by police in 2015.

An investigation by attorneys for the families of three girls—who recently settled with the district just before their lawsuit went before a jury—found that Loyd routinely played favorites with female students. He would offer them candy in exchange for hugs, and slipped them candy bars under their desks.

At least two students who, luckily, did not become victims of Loyd, complained to their parents that their teacher gave this special treatment only to girls. The parents in turn complained of this behavior to both Loyd and the school principal. There is no record of these complaints in Loyd’s personnel file. No action was taken against the teacher.

These and similar complaints go as far back as 2009, or three principals ago at Paradise Valley, according to the initial lawsuit.

The disregard for common-sense precautions intended to keep kids safe on campus was apparently systemic while Loyd was molesting his victims. Shortly after his arrest, he told police that he was instructed by his supervisor at Paradise Elementary to work on his class’ student newspaper—the Room Nine Times—during recess and lunchtime, according to the lawsuit. This allowed him to be in his room alone with individual children on a regular basis. Somehow, he was even permitted to cover his windows with paper copies of the Room Nine Times, preventing anyone from being able to see inside.

Even back in 2004, when Loyd was teaching at Nordstrom Elementary, he made inappropriate sexual remarks and contact with a girl in his class toward whom he allegedly showed so much favoritism that other students called her a “teacher’s pet.”

If the district had followed its own Child Abuse Reporting Procedures—first approved by trustees in 2004 and updated in 2012—perhaps these patterns of abuse would not have continued in Loyd’s classroom for so long. This policy requires the district leadership to enact an “age-appropriate and culturally sensitive child abuse prevention curriculum” for students.

No such programs seems to have been implemented, despite the district’s claims to the contrary.

The abuse cited in the criminal charges against Loyd—for which he is now serving a 40-year prison term—occurred from 2012 to 2014. This was during a transition in the district’s top staff position and changes in the elected seven-member board of trustees. Wes Smith left MHUSD as superintendent in 2013. The board of trustees immediately named Betando his interim replacement, then hired him full-time in 2014 with a $225,000 annual salary.

Before that, Betando served as MHUSD’s Human Resources director starting in 2012, about the time the board updated its child abuse reporting procedures.

The district is not admitting it is at fault by settling with three of Loyd’s victims.

But the fact that the district agreed to pay the victims $8.25 million just as the lawsuit was scheduled to be argued in front of a jury “speaks volumes,” as attorney Robert Allard told Times reporter Scott Forstner.

The girls’ parents have said an even more important aspect of the settlement is MHUSD agreed to implement a predator identification training program for all staff members and students.

Hopefully, MHUSD will take this requirement seriously as well as launch an independent investigation into the lapses. The superintendent should have implemented the board’s policy, and the board, as overseers responsible for the safety of the community’s children, should have been diligent about holding the superintendent responsible at annual reviews.

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