Grace Metalious wrote a popular book years ago about a town with a pristine image and dark secrets. It was an immediate best-seller, was made into a movie and wound up on television for a six-year run – a sexy, nighttime soap opera called “Peyton Place.”
What’s going on in a little California town smacks of that, and the picture it presents is ugly and sad.
The issue in Moraga, a community of some 16,000 people in the hills outside of San Francisco, involves sex and secrets. The town may be pretty, but the issue isn’t. And the ramifications have yet to be fully dealt with.
The difference between Moraga and Peyton Place is that the fictional sex involved the titillating trysts of adults.
In Moraga, the sex involved adults and children. The adults were middle-school teachers, and the children were their students.
Moraga prides itself on the schools – ask anyone: residents, politicians, businesses and real estate agents. They all say the schools are wonderful. Parents are very involved as classroom aides and most importantly, fundraising.
At a school-board meeting last week, reports from just two schools noted that over the last year alone, parents donated more than 51,814 hours of their time to the facilities!
So, all this good stuff and then you have teacher-student sexual molestation?
Yes, indeed, and what’s worse, is that when one instance was reported via letter in 1994 to Principal Bill Walters, he didn’t report it to authorities as required by law.
Indeed, Walters delayed confronting the accused teacher, Dan Witters.
There’s an internal memo that shows Walters informed Superintendant John Cooley of the situation – apparently nothing was done. Nearly three months later, Walters informed Witters about the accusation and gave him the letter so he knew the girl’s name.
Identifying such accusers is illegal, and Walters knew it.
The student said that four years earlier, Witters had driven her home, kissed her mouth and put his hand under her blouse.
But that girl wasn’t alone. A total of six girls made similar accusations against Witters. None were reported to authorities.
By 1996, there were at least eight student complaints, and even a parent complained about how Witters treated students in classes. As rumors flew, Witters drove his car off a cliff.
Police said nothing could be done because Witters was dead.
But there’s more. Another young girl in the same school was befriended by her coach. At one point, she told the coach she was one of the original six abused by Witters. The coach, Julie Correa, told her she would report it, but apparently never did and police weren’t notified.
Kristen Cunnane was 11 when she met Correa, who was popular among student athletes. Kristen was a swimmer and spent time with the coach and other classmates. Along the way, things changed.
Kristen told me that at first they were friends, but then the touching started when she was 13. By the time she was 14, it was “real bad.’” Correa’s abuse and rapes of Kristen lasted for more than four years and was so blatant that she even accosted the girl in her own bedroom and hid in her closet.
Through all that, Kristen, who developed into a champion swimmer and is now associate head coach of U.C. Berkeley’s women’s swim team and was just named the NCAA assistant Women’s Swim Coach of the Year at Cal, never said a word to anyone. It didn’t help that Correa told her no one would believe her and they both could wind up dead like Witters.
I asked Kristen if she ever was inclined to tell about her abuse. She said she recalled that when she was 11,12 and 13, Correa said they were close friends and not to tell her parents. As things got worse, she felt she had no way out and felt trapped.
She told me she wasn’t an at risk youth, she had good grades, great parents and a great life. She said, if she told anyone what was wrong, her “wonderful world would crumble.”
And so she didn’t, burying the horror for 10 years until she could do it no longer. She was plagued with memories, depression and suicidal thoughts.
Her husband, whom she met in high school and now is a county prosecutor, encouraged her to get help and report the abuse. In 2010, she went to police, working with them and ultimately getting Correa, whom had since moved to Utah with her husband and two children, to confess.
As the truth tumbled out, it was also revealed that Kristen was one of the original six girls who had complained about the teacher, Dan Witters – the same complaint that Principal Bill Walters sloughed off.
Julie Correa was arrested Aug. 4, 2010, with 28 criminal counts against her and her confession resulted in an eight-year sentence.
The Contra Costa Times investigation of Kristen Cunnane’s ordeal these last two weeks has stirred things up – namely, why the school board covered up the accusations so that these crimes continued. Why did Bill Walters continue as a principal, despite not reporting the accusations?
Why, right after the newspaper had to demand through lawyers to obtain the memos showing who knew what and when, did Walters resign? Why have school-board members refused to speak individually to media?
When I read of these horrors and the implications involving teachers, superintendents, school-board members, parents and children, smoke came out of my ears.
I interviewed Kristen on my KSFO radio program on June 10 at 5 p.m. and the CCT reporter Matthias Gafni at 6 p.m. The podcasts are on KSFO.com
Last week, I attended both the school-board meeting and the Moraga Town Council meeting; they are not happy with me.
More on that next week – including the crying mother, concern over property values, the insult to Kristen by the Moraga Country Club and the lack of public support for Kristen and the other victims by the district, the school, the teachers, local politicians and even local parents.
Peyton Place, indeed.