A former student has filed a lawsuit against an Ojai private school for sexually assaulting the teacher
A former Oak Grove School student is suing the Ojai private school and its parent nonprofit for failing to protect her from alleged sexual abuse and assault by a former teacher and covering up evidence that he sexually assaulted other students.
Ventura County sheriff’s deputies arrested teacher Paul Herder on July 31, alleging he forced a juvenile student to perform numerous sexual acts and sent “harmful materials to the victim” over the course of a five-year illicit relationship from August 2013 through June 2017.
The District Attorney’s Office charged Herder, 65, with 23 felonies, including multiple counts of unlawful sexual intercourse, luring and various sex crimes involving a minor. He pleaded not guilty to all charges and denied all special accusations.
Jail records show Herder remains in custody at the Todd Road county jail outside Santa Paula and is ineligible for bail.
Herder’s attorney in the criminal case, David Lear, said in an email last week that there was “very little” he could say about the case before it is resolved.
The separate civil lawsuit was filed on November 13, court records show.
Oak Grove recently learned of the civil lawsuit, a school representative said in a statement last week. Joel Keller, director of development, wrote that the school reported the student’s allegations to the county’s child protective services and the sheriff’s sex crimes unit “immediately” after the former student reported it to school staff in July.
Keller wrote that the school continues to cooperate with law enforcement, but he was unable to comment further on the case due to the ongoing investigation.
The Oak Grove School is operated by the Ojai-based non-profit Krishnamurti Foundation of America, part of a small global network created to help preserve and share the teachings of philosopher and spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti.
Krishnamurti spent most of his time in Ujai and He died of cancer at his residence there in 1986. He founded Oak Grove Little School in 1975, according to the school’s website. Today, it combines boarding school and day school programs serving just under 220 students from pre-K through 12th grade.
The lawsuit describes the allegations
Lawyers for the former student, now 24 and living in Ojai, initially filed a 14-page civil filing in Ventura County Superior Court on Nov. 9 under the name Jane Doe.
The lawsuit describes her experience with Herder’s alleged abuse and alleges that the school and institution “engaged in a concerted effort to conceal evidence” of other alleged sexual misconduct by Herder in the years leading up to her alleged assault.
David Ring, the lead attorney in the civil suit, said the charges are based in part on information “out there” that Herder “had problems” at a different Krishnamurti school in England before he began teaching at Oak Grove in 2004.
“When there’s a roar like that, it’s usually true,” Ring said. The company plans to obtain more information about Herder’s history during the course of the case.
As of Monday night, no attorney was listed for any of the three defendants named in the civil case: Herder, Oak Grove, and the Krishnamurti Foundation, court records show.
The student had attended the K-12 private school as a high school freshman in 2013-14 and met Herder on a campus tour.
The lawsuit alleges that at the end of the student’s freshman year, Herder kissed her on the cheek during a school assembly. The following year, he began giving her “special attention,” including financial gifts and long hugs, sometimes in the presence of other employees.
The lawsuit alleges that Herder escalated the interest during her freshman year, giving the student one of his jackets to wear around campus, touching her leg during a school trip and suggesting they go on a date once she turned 18.
At one point, Ring said, Herder told the former student that he was confronted by school staff about his interactions with her, but that the effort “died on its own.”
“He was very close to this girl and was around her a lot and had many interactions with her,” Ring said. “How could they not have noticed? It’s impossible.”
In the spring of 2016, the lawsuit alleged that Herder’s “grooming and manipulation of (the student) ultimately led to his first sexual assault and assault.”
The suit alleges that Herder left the school at the end of that year but continued to abuse the student for another year. By the end of the 2016-17 school year, Herder had sexually assaulted the student more than 40 times, the document alleges.
Ring said the student did not “realize what it was about” until she was an adult and decided to tell school staff.
“She knew it was wrong and she didn’t want him to get away with it,” Ring said.
Isaiah Murtaugh covers education for the Ventura County Star in partnership with Report for America. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0236 and follow him on Twitter @com. isaiahmurtaugh And @com. vcsschools. You can support this work by making a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.
This article originally appeared on the Ventura County Star website: An Ojai private school has been sued for sexually assaulting teachers