An Investigative Reporter Digs Into Troubling Stories About His Own High School Journalism Teacher

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A middle aged man with white skin and tousled dark hair raises onw eyebrow at the camera, holding the tip of his eyeglasses in the corner of his mouth. His lips are pursed in a small smile. He's wearing a white collared shirt and light blue sweater.
Rosemead High School journalism teacher Eric Burgess was known as a prankster and a fun-loving adult on campus. But some students allege he groomed them for sex.  (Rosemead High School file photo)

A decade after award-winning "Business Insider" reporter Matt Drange graduated from Rosemead High, he found himself using the skills he first learned in journalism class to ask hard questions of his own high school newspaper advisor. Drange's recent article, “He Was My High School Journalism Teacher. Then I Investigated His Relationship With Teenage Girls” has been lauded by child abuse experts, who’ve called it one of the most accurate portraits of how child grooming looks and feels to survivors.

Eric Burgess was a dynamic teacher at the high school in the San Gabriel Valley, and well-liked by many students, including Drange. But it was an open secret, he says, that Burgess had fathered a child with a former student. After interviewing more than 40 current and former teachers and students and reviewing hundreds of emails, disciplinary records and internal documents, Drange found that Burgess repeatedly groomed female students for sex and engaged in inappropriate behavior over two decades.

When Drange took a hard look back at Rosemead High and its campus culture in the wake of the #MeToo movement, he recalled how boundaries between teachers and students were nearly nonexistent, with many students and staff content to look the other way when adults engaged in troubling behavior. Drange spoke with The California Report Magazine host Sasha Khokha about how a nagging feeling of guilt occupied the back of his mind, as he grappled with whether he’d been a part of a community that allowed a sexual predator to go unchecked.

The front entrance of Rosemead High School, in the San Gabriel Valley. (Matt Drange)

Drange found that despite numerous red flags, school and district officials repeatedly missed opportunities to put a stop to Burgess' behavior. Time and again, he says, these adults failed to investigate disturbing stories and reports of sexual abuse that arose throughout the teacher's career. Even when Drange began digging, school officials obstructed his reporting and denied him access to public records.

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After Drange’s story came out, it sparked student walkouts  and calls for changes to the way district officials hold teachers accountable for grooming behavior. Even though his reporting focused on one teacher at one Southern California high school, it provoked visceral reactions from readers across the country, as well as other Rosemead High alums.