The Redlands Unified School District has settled for $2.25 million its second sexual abuse lawsuit against former English teacher, soccer coach and convicted sex offender Laura Whitehurst.
The settlement brings to $8.25 million the total amount paid out to Whitehurst’s victims since her 2013 arrest. In August 2016, the district agreed to pay $6 million to a former Citrus Valley High School student who impregnated Whitehust while he was a student.
The latest lawsuit was filed in January 2021 by a former Redlands High School student, now 30, who alleged he was preyed upon and sexually abused at the school by Whitehurst in 2007 and 2008, according to the plaintiff’s Irvine attorney, Morgan Stewart.
“On behalf of our very brave client, we are pleased to get to this resolution. It is unfortunate that Redlands Unified forced him to go through litigation despite knowing that they had failed to protect him from a serial pedophile,” Stewart said in an email Friday. “I would hope they have learned their lesson, but given a significant number of additional recent claims, it is evident that they have not.”
The abuse, according to the lawsuit, began when the plaintiff was 14 years old. Whitehurst admitted to police in 2013 she had sex with him 10 to 15 times in her classroom and at her Redlands apartment, according to a police report.
Whitehurst subsequently went on to teach and coach at Citrus Valley High School, where she also preyed upon male students, including the one who impregnated her, prior to her arrest on July 1, 2013. She was subsequently convicted of four felony counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and two counts of oral copulation involving three victims. She was sentenced in August 2013 to a year in county jail.
Whitehurst’s arrest sparked national news coverage and was the launching pad for what was to become a massive scandal that rocked the school district. A 14-month investigation by the Southern California News Group in 2018 and 2019 revealed a nearly two-decade pattern by district teachers and administrators of covering up or failing to report to police complaints of sexual abuse.
The scandal triggered an ongoing investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office and an investigation by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing into a former Clement Middle School principal who surrendered her teaching credential on Sept. 1 after the commission found probable cause to publicly censure her, records show.
To date, Stewart’s law firm, Manly Stewart & Finaldi, has collected more than $45.5 million from the district to settle sexual abuse lawsuits by former students, some with allegations dating back more than 20 years.
In another, pending lawsuit against Whitehurst and the district, Stewart represents Whitehurst’s first alleged victim, a former student at Redlands East Valley High School who is now 31. Whitehurst is alleged to have engaged in sexual intercourse and other sex acts with the plaintiff in 2007, when he was a freshman.
In her seven-year history at the district, allegations of sexual abuse or inappropriate contact with students trailed Whitehurst from one school to another, according to the Southern California News Group investigation.
The sex abuse scandal prompted sweeping reforms at the district in 2018, but the changes failed to convince the San Bernardino County Civil Grand Jury in 2022 that school district employees had a firm grasp on their duties and responsibilities as mandated reporters, and still struggled with their legal duty to weed out predators within their ranks.
Redlands Unified spokesperson Christine Stephens said in an email Friday that the district was aware of the recent settlement, but could not comment due to confidentiality agreements.
In his first public address on the issue since taking the helm at the district on July 1, Redlands Unified Superintendent Juan Cabral said in a statement Friday that he is committed to ensure a safe and secure learning environment for all students.
“We actively engage with parents/guardians, students, and staff to keep them informed about safety measures, policies, and developments within the district,” Cabral said.
He said the district continues to take all allegations (of sexual abuse) seriously and continually works to enhance district policies and procedures.
“We have implemented several protocols, some of which are unique and hopefully become industry-standard across public education. These protocols have been implemented with input from multiple sources, including a nationally recognized authority on child sexual abuse and prevention techniques,” Cabral said. “We will continue to regularly assess our policies, systems and protocols and adjust accordingly. We are always open to constructive criticism, as no system can ever be deemed perfect.”