Lawsuit against Redlands school district alleges teacher had sex with students

REDLANDS, Calif. (KABC) -- Yet another lawsuit has been filed involving the Redlands Unified School District and a former teacher accused of having sex with students.

Six months ago, a 19-year-old former student filed suit against the school district and former teacher Kevin Kirkland. Now, four more plaintiffs have stepped forward with similar allegations.

"The pattern and practice of Mr. Kirkland was to approach the students, get close to them, understand their family dynamics, ask them for their phone number, text them at all hours and try to get them close," said attorney Morgan Stewart, who represents the plaintiffs.

"And then he would go to the next step and try to get them to his house to have barbecue while his wife was out of town. He would ask them out on dates, tell them how pretty they were, tell them how he can understand why all the boys are amazed with them," she said.

Some of the allegations include negligence, assault, sexual battery and sexual harassment. The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 18 in San Bernardino County Superior Court.

"He taught special education math, so he taught kids with some level of learning disability, some level of family dynamic, said Stewart of Kirkland. "We think he used that as an opportunity to prey on these victims."

When asked about the levels of alleged abuse, Stewart said, "Sexual assault, touching, groping, all the way up to intercourse."

It's not just Kirkland named in the lawsuit, but the Redlands Unified School District as well, along with multiple administrators.

"You've got a school district that only wants to protect its own image, a district that wants to make sure their teachers stay in their positions and not investigate their teachers," said Stewart.

"As early as 2006 Redlands Unified School District received notice that (Kirkland) was soliciting a student for sex, and yet left him in the classroom without doing anything," said Stewart.

"In the years 2012, 2015 and 2016, once again the district received reports of sexual assault and harassment, and still did nothing, except telling Kirkland to stop his behavior."

Kirkland isn't the only former teacher in the Redlands Unified School District accused of having sex with students. Laura Whitehurst, 32, pleaded guilty to sex charges in 2013 and was sentenced to one year in county jail and five years of probation. The victim had told the court that Whitehurst, with whom he fathered a child, manipulated and preyed on him.

As for Kirkland, he was originally charged with eight felonies, including unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. But he reached a plea deal with the prosecution in which he pleaded guilty to oral copulation with a minor in exchange for a two-year sentence.

Stewart said Kirkland was released from jail after approximately one year. No further criminal charges are pending.

In response to the lawsuit, the school district provided a statement:

"This civil lawsuit, in which plaintiff seeks to recover money from the taxpayers of Redlands, makes unsubstantiated allegations based on speculation, misrepresentations, and hindsight. The plaintiffs' lawyers try to construct a pattern of misbehavior by district employees in dealing with Mr. Kirkland that is not based on the facts available at that time," read the statement, attributed to the school district's legal counsel.

"It is simply unfair to imply that district leaders did not take this case seriously. The facts of this case will show that the district disciplined Mr. Kirkland to the limits of our personnel policies based on what witnesses and others reported to us at the time. The appropriate place to refute these allegations is through the judicial process where disputed facts and interpretations of events can be proven, rather than in the media."
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