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East San José School Conspired to Hide Teacher's Sexual Abuse, 11 Victims Allege in Lawsuit

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Children play on grass behind a chainlink- fence beside a sign reading "Adelante I: Dual Language Academy."
Students run past a sign outside Adelante I Dual Language Academy in San José on June 8, 2023.  (Kori Suzuki/KQED)

Eleven victims in a lawsuit filed on Wednesday, June 12, allege the current interim superintendent at the Alum Rock Union Elementary School District and former staff conspired to cover up sexual abuse by a former teacher.

Israel Santiago, a former music instructor at Adelante Dual Language Academy, is currently serving a prison sentence for sexual abuse. Since Santiago was charged in 2022, four lawsuits have been filed against the school district over its handling of complaints against the teacher.

An investigation by the school district in 2014 documented multiple complaints Santiago inappropriately touched students, according to records obtained by KQED in response to a Public Record Act request. Administrators determined he should be transferred to another school in the district.


Santiago continued to teach for nearly a decade before he was charged with sexually abusing 10 students at Adelante.

The latest lawsuit alleges that school staff and the district’s current interim superintendent, Imee Almazan, were not only aware of Santiago’s inappropriate behavior but also chose not to notify the police.

Superintendent Almazan declined to comment.

The attorney for the victims, Morgan Stewart, said Santiago should have “unequivocally” been reported to authorities. All mandatory reporters are required by law to report all known or suspected cases of child abuse or neglect.

“This is a clear conspiracy to cover this up, keep it quiet, not report it to the police,” Stewart said. “He’s touching females. He’s making them uncomfortable. He’s acting in a sexually inappropriate manner with 12- and 13-year-olds. And there’s a direction from the superintendent not to call the police on that.”

Almazan was the principal at Sheppard Middle School in 2014 when she completed an investigation into complaints against Santiago. After interviewing 15 students, Almazan found “an overall discomfort and/or feeling of insecurity in Mr. Santiago’s band class among female students that were interviewed.”

Among other allegations referenced in the investigative report by the school, Santiago was accused of physically moving a female student by holding her head and shoulders, touching a female student at her waist to move her, and asking a parent to drop off his child at his house. Almazan recommended Santiago be transferred out of Sheppard Middle School, records show.

The lawsuit alleges former Alum Rock superintendent Stephen Fiss instructed staff not to call law enforcement in response to the complaints.

“Superintendent Fiss did not want me to contact the police regarding this matter at this time,” reads a draft for an investigative report prepared by the school included in the suit.

Next to those instructions is a handwritten note reading, “Delete.”

Fiss could not be reached for comment.

The former principal at Adelante, Maria Gutierrez, is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit. In a statement provided by her attorney, Gutierrez argues she blew the whistle on Santiago and was terminated after doing what was necessary to protect the children.

“Ms. Gutierrez looks forward to all of the legal claims playing out in court because the facts will demonstrate that Alum Rock has an entrenched history of doing what is politically best for them, and not what is best for students and families,” the statement reads.

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Almazan, the former Sheppard Middle School principal who investigated Santiago, was appointed interim superintendent with the district in March after the previous superintendent, Hilaria Bauer, was abruptly fired, according to the San Jose Spotlight.

Trustee Minh Pham told the San José Spotlight that the school board is searching for a permanent replacement, and Almazan is unlikely to apply for the position.

Most of the victims in the recent lawsuit are under 14 years old, and two are in their 20s, attorney Stewart said.

Stewart noted that Adelante and the district are made up of largely Hispanic and lower-income families. Many families do not necessarily have the ability to speak out or go to law enforcement and trust their schools to be a safe place, he said.

“It’s devastating,” Stewart said. “And I don’t even know that the parents fully grasp everything that the school did to harm them all along the way.”

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