Three months before Beardsley School District teacher Vanessa Hooker had a sexual relationship with two teenage boys, school administrators knew she’d been inappropriately messaging another minor on Facebook, an attorney representing two victims alleges in a civil suit filed Wednesday.
Despite that, Bakersfield lawyer Daniel Rodriguez said, the district ignored warning signs, and instead of conducting an investigation, held a staff meeting in August 2015 discouraging the use of social media with students.
Those Facebook messages could have been read as “sexual innuendo,” Rodriguez said.
“School districts should be especially vigilant and when there's any red flag on the part of the teacher, it should be fully investigated at that point, because what happens if it’s not dealt with at that point?” Rodriguez asked. “The potential for abuse goes up and that’s exactly what happens here.”
Rodriguez said it was brought to the district's attention that “a particular teacher” had been inappropriately messaging students on Facebook and he believes the district knew it was Hooker. Still, the district did not directly confront the eighth-grade science teacher, he said.
The lawsuit names as defendants Hooker, the district, Superintendent Paul Miller and Beardsley Junior High School Principal David Hilton.
Miller did not return repeated calls and messages requesting comment left at his home and office.
Hooker was sentenced Feb 24 to one year behind bars in Lerdo Jail after pleading no contest to one felony count of contacting a minor with intent to commit a sexual offense and another count of sexually penetrating a minor with a foreign object.
She's expected to be released by Aug. 18, according to Kern County Sheriff's Office inmate records.
She admitted after her Dec. 18 arrest that she had a sexual encounter with one of her students in her classroom, and described the anatomy of the student in a text message, court filings show. Court documents show Hooker had sexual relationships with at least three students — a 14-year-old and two 16-year-olds.
Because the criminal case has been resolved, Hooker could be brought to testify without being able to invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez's clients are seeking an unspecified amount of money, but unlike similar cases filed recently, Rodriguez will not seek a court order requiring the district to institute policies that would prevent such sexual misconduct from happening again.
Beardsley School District already has those, he said, but they're not being enforced.