A former guidance counselor at Old Mission School in San Luis Obispo alleges the principal ordered staff not to report “multiple incidents of suspected child abuse of students” and that she was fired after reporting two alleged abuse cases.
In a lawsuit filed in San Luis Obispo Superior Court Monday, Jannelle Craig-Difronzo alleges that former Interim Principal Cynthia Fogarty covered up abuse allegedly committed by students’ parents who were financial donors of the school. The lawsuit does not identify the alleged abusers or victims.
Lawsuits represent just one side of the story; attorneys for the Diocese of Monterey Parish, which owns and operates Old Mission School, have yet to file a response in court. As of Thursday, Fogarty was not listed on the school’s online faculty directory.
Erica Yanez, director of media relations for the Diocese of Monterey, wrote in an email statement Thursday that the diocese denies the allegations in the lawsuit.
“Each child under our care is a precious gift from God and we take our responsibility as mandatory reporters of child abuse seriously and fully comply with the law,” Yanez wrote.
A representative from the San Luis Obispo Police Department did not immediately respond for comment on whether they are aware of allegations of child abuse.
According to the lawsuit, Craig-Difronzo worked as a guidance counselor at the school for 10 years and also served as volleyball, basketball and track coach. When Fogarty was hired as interim principal in 2017, the lawsuit alleges, Fogarty ordered faculty, including Craig-Difronzo, not to report suspected child abuse to Child Protective Services.
Craig-Difronzo alleges that on Dec. 13, 2017, she informed Fogarty about a third grader who arrived at school with large bruises on her shins, saying she wanted to alert authorities. Fogarty allegedly told the counselor not to do so because the student’s father was a member of the Old Mission School Advisory Board.
“Fogarty told (Craig-Difronzo) that she wanted to prevent the child from being withdrawn from OMS, which would result in a loss of money,” the lawsuit states.
Instead, Fogarty invited the child’s parents in to her office and allegedly told them that Craig-Difronzo wanted to report them to Child Protective Services, violating mandated reporter requirements.
“Needless to say, the child’s family became upset with plaintiff,” the lawsuit reads.
In another incident Jan. 4, a teacher sought Craig-Difronzo’s advice about sexual abuse the teacher suspected was being committed against a 3-year-old student, and Craig-Difronzo told the teacher to report it to Child Protective Services, according to the complaint.
“When (Fogarty) became aware of the issue, she ordered both the teacher and the plaintiff not to make a report to CPS because the child’s parents were wealthy and had made financial contributions to (the school),” the complaint reads.
Four days after after Craig-Difronzo and the teacher made the report to the county, Carig-Difronzo says her hours were cut from 35 hours per week to 17.5 hours a week and she lost her health insurance.
She claims she reported the alleged abuse and retaliation directly to Diocese officials and was informed in April that her annual employment contract would not be renewed for the 2018-19 school year.
Craig-Difronzo accuses the school of whistleblower retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress and wrongful termination. She is seeking an unspecified amount of damages and compensation for attorney’s fees.
On Thursday, Diocese spokeswoman Yanez wrote that Diocese staff take their responsibility to report child abuse seriously, and that all mandatory reporters have been trained in their duties and signed written acknowledgments of their understanding of their responsibilities.
Yanez wrote that failure to report suspected abuse subjects employees to prosecution and termination of their employment.
“While we are not going to try this case in the press, we deny these allegations and intend to defend this case vigorously,” Yanez wrote.
A case management conference is scheduled for Nov. 26.