The parents of a 16-year-old girl allege their daughter received thousands of inappropriate text messages, emails and late-night phone calls from the Del Oro High School band director over the course of two years and are now suing him and the Placer Union High School District.
The couple filed a civil lawsuit Monday in Placer County Superior Court against the band director, Benjamin Duncan, and the district. They are seeking personal injury damages, attorneys' fees and court costs, as well as demanding a jury trial over the claims.
The lawsuit says Duncan inflicted emotional distress on the girl and that the school district was negligent in the hiring of an unfit employee and in the supervision of a minor.
The parents opted out from using their true names to protect the identity of their minor daughter and are listed on the lawsuit as Heidi B. and Jacob B. Their daughter is named Jane Doe in the suit. The parents claim Duncan sexually harassed their daughter, engaged in misconduct and interfered with her education. The girl was 14-years-old during the 2015-2016 school year when her parents allege Duncan began harassing her, according to the lawsuit.
The misconduct continued until the girl was 16, throughout the 2016-2017 school year.
The lawsuit says, Duncan began "grooming" the girl while she was his student as she entered the tenth grade. Her parents claim Duncan had "the calculated intent to gain her trust and friendship beyond what would be considered a 'normal' teacher-student relationship."
Duncan would send the girl constant text messages, emails and call the student at "all hours of the day and night", according to the suit.
Contact would generally start at 5 a.m. and go on as late as 2 a.m. The girl's parents say Duncan would even secretly deliver handwritten notes to their daughter and write her messages in her personal journal.
While the lawsuit states Duncan's intents are unclear, the text messages the parents allege were sent by Duncan to the minor paint a picture beyond an academic relationship. ABC10 included some of the messages below:
" *whispers* I hope your Friday is better than your Thursday. I love you."
"Back to us... I can safely say at this point that I have never been as close to student as I have been to you... It is a risk to allow a student to get close.Can you think of any reasons why?"" *huge hug that immobilizes your body* I love you so much..."
Duncan knew his behavior was inappropriate and instructed the girl to delete some of the messages or not to reply to other messages, according to the lawsuit.
The girl's parents discovered the relationship between their daughter and her teacher after Duncan contacted Heidi B. in January, 2017 requesting permission to take the minor on a weekend camping trip as a "bonding experience" for members of the school band.
After Heidi B. declined, the lawsuit says Duncan asked again in an attempt to convince the girl's mother. The parents grew suspicious and looked into their daughter's text messages, where they discovered the extent of the relationship, according to the suit.
The parents say they immediately contacted the school district and the local police and claim the district acknowledged Duncan's behavior as "inappropriate", admitting he had failed to maintain professional boundaries with a minor. However, the school district didn't remove Duncan from his job position and lied to students and parents that Duncan's absence was "medically related" when in fact, he was under administrative leave while under investigation, the lawsuit says.
The Del Oro High School website still lists Duncan as a teacher and as the band director. The parents say they had no other choice but to remove their daughter from the school. The lawsuit states, the parents initially filed a suit in May of 2017 but the district "rejected" it.
ABC10 reached out to both Duncan and the Placer Union High School District for comment. Duncan was contacted over the phone on his school extension line. When asked about the allegations, he said he was "working with the school district on [that]" and that they had advised him to decline to comment.
ABC10 spoke to Lisa Burlison, executive assistant to the Superintendent George Sziraki Jr., who said the school had not seen the lawsuit and explained she could not answer any questions about the allegations. Instead, the school district issued this statement:
"The safety and wellbeing of our students is of the utmost importance and overarching priorities to the District and these allegations are taken very seriously. At this time, the PUHSD has not been served with this alleged/potential lawsuit and are, therefore, unaware of the litigation. District protocol is to not comment on potential litigation and the district is adhering to that protocol."
Duncan has been teaching at Del Oro High School since summer of 2009, according to the school's website.