SFUSD sued after alleged sexual assault in principal’s office

The parents of students at Bessie Carmichael Elementary school in SoMa got a strange letter from then-principal Lawrence Gotanco in the spring of 2013.

“On Wednesday afternoon inappropriate behavior involving three students occurred on campus, and a video recording was made of this incident and shared with other students,” noted the letter.

Now, the vague language around the incident has been more clearly defined as a result of a lawsuit against San Francisco Unified School District.

The April 3 incident was a sexual assault that involved three 10-year-old boys, at least one of whom was a victim, according to the claims in a civil trial that began Tuesday in San Francisco Superior Court.

Such claims were not commented on by the district, who sent The San Francisco Examiner this brief statement: “SFUSD takes the safety and well-being of all its students seriously. The matter you are asking about is now in litigation, and thus it would be inappropriate for us to comment at this time.”

The lawsuit filed against the school district by the guardian of one of the three boys says that another one of the boys sexually assaulted the victim, who was forced to “perform sexual acts.” The suit further alleges that the incident happened in Principal Gotanco’s office, and that he and other staff failed to protect the students in question when they left them alone.

According to the complaint, Gotanco and other staff “failed to provide reasonable security and protection” and they knew that the perpetrator did “constitute a risk to assault or abuse other students.”

The victim, now 12, no longer attends the school. The victim’s mother, who worked at the school, has also since left. The suit is seeking more than $25,000 in damages to pay for the boy’s psychological treatment and the emotional damage the incident caused.

But the exact details of the incident remain cloudy.

While Gotanco’s letter did not share the names of the three boys involved, it did say that a police investigation was underway and that the parents of the boys had been spoken to. The letter also said Gotanco personally told the class that the three boys involved should not be bullied or teased.

“Our staff is going to work together to strengthen and reinforce student safety,” added the letter, which ended, in part, with this: “We ask that you remind your child to report anything that makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable.”

The police investigated the incident and then handed the case to the District Attorney’s office, who declined to prosecute.

Gotanco is no longer at the school.

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