Sex Abuse Lawsuit Claims South San Francisco Unified School District Ordered Destruction of Incriminating Evidence

Parent submitted photos of Westborough Middle School teacher Joseph Toy with his arms around a young boy. School principal ordered shredding of photos.

The South San Francisco Unified School District is being sued by the law firm of Cerri, Boskovich & Allard over sexual abuse allegedly committed by Westborough Middle School teacher Joseph Toy.

The lawsuit claims that, many years before Toy’s arrest, a parent caught Toy being inappropriate with a young student and photographed him with his arms around the student. The photos were turned over to Assistant Principal Barbara Bowler. Then-Principal Beth Orofina ordered Bowler to talk to Toy, shred the photos and not document the complaint.

Once Bowler and Orofina saw the pictures of Toy, numerous red flags continued to emerge. Two years before Toy’s arrest, new Principal April Holland and Bowler were both verbally warned by another teacher about his behavior. The lawsuit states that Principal Holland also came into Toy’s classroom during lunch or odd times and found the door locked and closed at times. Despite these obvious warning signs, Toy was allowed the opportunity to get close to and sexually abuse at least four students.

Even with ten years of knowledge of Toy’s behaviors, Toy was allowed to chaperone students to Disneyland including in early April 2018, where he allegedly sexually assaulted one of his victims.

When a victim told a teacher about Toy’s behaviors, rather than immediately reporting Toy to law enforcement as required by the law, the student was told to report it to the office. When the student disclosed abuse, Assistant Principal Bowler and Principal April Holland continued to flout the law by not notifying law enforcement and proceeding with their internal investigation. Even after law enforcement intervened, school officials with the support of Superintendent Shawnterra Moore, continued with their own investigation.

“You would think that a school district which has had a major problem with sexual abuse since the early 2000’s would go out of its way to allow law enforcement to do its job without interference,” said attorney Robert Allard, “unless of course the District trying to cover up another complaint against Toy.”

Since at least 2000, starting with the arrest and conviction of Alta Loma teacher Nick Leanardos, the South San Francisco Unified School District has confronted serious issues involving the sexual abuse of students entrusted to its care.  Westborough Middle School hired a band teacher that had been under police investigation at nearby Mills High School for sexual abuse. He was arrested at Westborough in 2016.

“Educator sexual abuse is rampant in this school district,” said attorney Lauren Cerri, who works with Allard. “All employees with access to children should have been properly trained on the identification of red flag behaviors which always precedes sexual abuse. This district, like many in the Bay Area, should have better enforced a policy to educate students on sexual abuse reporting and predator grooming behaviors.”

There are many similarities between this case and one involving former Morgan Hill teacher John Loyd. The case settled for $8.25 million for three children, two of whom were represented by Cerri and Allard. Predatory red flag behavior and parent complaints were ignored there, and the district did not provide adequate preventative predator identification training to its teachers or age-appropriate sexual abuse awareness curriculum to its students.

Those with information on this case are encouraged to call Mr. Allard or Ms. Cerri at 408-289-1417 or use the form to email them.

Toy is currently being prosecuted by the San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.

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