Parents of a former Del Oro High School student filed suit Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, alleging that the band teacher harmed their daughter by sending hundreds of inappropriate text messages and calling late at night. Google Maps
Parents of a former Del Oro High School student filed suit Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, alleging that the band teacher harmed their daughter by sending hundreds of inappropriate text messages and calling late at night. Google Maps

Education

Band teacher sent girl ‘love’ texts and wanted to take her camping, parents say in lawsuit

By Diana Lambert

dlambert@sacbee.com

November 27, 2017 04:33 PM

UPDATED November 29, 2017 07:51 AM

Parents who say their 16-year-old daughter received hundreds of inappropriate text messages and late-night phone calls from her Del Oro High School band director are suing him and the Placer Union High School District.

They filed a civil lawsuit Monday in Placer County Superior Court against the district and band director Benjamin Duncan. The parents, listed as Heidi B. and Jacob B., did not use their last name in an effort to protect their daughter’s identity.

Their complaint alleges that Duncan used his position as a teacher and mentor to sexually harass their daughter, resulting in emotional distress, and that the school district failed to adequately supervise Duncan or their daughter.

The mother said she found the text messages in January after the band teacher’s insistence that her 16-year-old daughter go on a weekend camping trip made her suspicious. She discovered the teacher had sent hundreds of messages over a nearly two-year period, starting when the girl was 14, according to the lawsuit.

Never miss a local story.

Sign up today for a free 30 day free trial of unlimited digital access.

The text messages included “I love you,” “*Huge hug that immobilizes your body* I love you so much,” “Back to us ... I can safely say at this point that I have never been as close to student as I have been to you” and many others of a similar nature, according to the suit.

An email and phone call seeking comment from Duncan were not answered Monday.

The parents alerted police and the principal about the messages, and an investigation was launched. Duncan was placed on administrative leave during the investigation, but was ultimately allowed to return to his job, according to the lawsuit.

In January, the Placer County Sheriff’s Office said its investigation showed “inappropriate” actions that, nonetheless, “did not rise to the level of criminal conduct.”

Placer Union High School District officials said Monday they had not been served with the lawsuit and are unaware of the litigation. District protocol is not to comment on potential litigation, said Lisa Burlison, executive assistant to Superintendent George Sziraki Jr.

“Students are a priority and their safety in every shape and form is incredibly important to us,” Burlison said.

A complaint filed with the school district in May was rejected, according to the suit.

The lawsuit acknowledges that Duncan’s intent was unclear, but said his actions, which included lengthy late-night phone calls, text messages and handwritten notes delivered secretly, went far beyond the normal boundaries between a student and a teacher.

Messages asking the girl to delete texts indicated Duncan knew his behavior was inappropriate, her parents told The Bee on Monday.

The girl, a top student with a grade-point average higher than 4.0, left the school before her senior year and finished her units at a community college, they said.

“He harmed our daughter and family, and I think it is unfair and wrong,” Jacob said. “They have proof and knowledge. We think he was grooming our daughter. ... Why does he get to stay and our daughter has to move?”

The parents say that their daughter, listed as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, is alienated from her friends, most of whom are in band, and is “socially miserable.”

While the complaint says there were hundreds of text messages, Duncan allegedly sent thousands, according to the family’s Los Angeles-based lawyer, David Ring. The family is asking for a jury to hear the case for an unspecified amount of damages, attorneys’ fees and court costs.

The Del Oro High School website says Duncan started teaching at the school in summer 2009. He generally teaches marching band, beginning guitar, band theory, jazz band and concert band.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert