A lawyer has accused Fresno High staff members of knowing about English teacher Darren Klassen’s illicit sexual affair with an underage student, but doing nothing to stop it, according to a lawsuit filed in Fresno County Superior Court against the Fresno Unified School District.
Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian said Thursday that the sexual abuse/molestation occurred over two years from January 2013 until September, when Klassen was arrested after the girl’s parents told the Fresno Police Department.
Paboojian represents Klassen’s victim, who is identified only as L.P. in the lawsuit. She is now 18 and has since graduated from Fresno High. Paboojian contends Klassen was having sex with her inside his classroom three to five times per week.
The victim seeks unspecified damages for alleged negligence, sexual battery, negligent supervision of Klassen, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct by Klassen.
In April, Klassen, 46, pleaded no contest to five felony counts of unlawful sex with a minor and agreed to spend five years and eight months in prison. As part of the plea deal, Klassen has to register as a sex offender.
The district and specifically school teachers, administration and janitors had numerous warnings and information that caused each of them to know, or reasonably suspect, the (student) was a victim of child abuse.
Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian
Fresno Unified spokesman Jedidiah Chernabaeff said Thursday that the district has not been served the lawsuit “nor do we comment on pending litigation.”
In his lawsuit, Paboojian says school staff members noticed that Klassen and the girl spent a lot of time alone together in his classroom and that he would lock the door and turn off the lights.
School staff members also saw the girl sitting on Klassen’s lap or with her arm around his shoulder when the two were alone in the classroom.
In addition, Fresno High students told school staff members that they had seen Klassen kissing the girl and holding her hand on campus. The students told school staffers about the affair, but nothing was done to stop Klassen “from molesting and sexually abusing the girl,” the lawsuit says.
“The district and specifically school teachers, administration and janitors had numerous warnings and information that caused each of them to know, or reasonably suspect, the (student) was a victim of child abuse,” Paboojian says in the lawsuit. “Despite their direct observations, the school administration and/or staff allowed this behavior and conduct to occur and continue for years.”
And despite these numerous warnings and observations, Paboojian says Klassen was allowed to remain employed as a teacher.
In addition, prior to Klassen’s arrest in September, the district never did any investigation nor did it report Klassen to authorities, Paboojian says.
A Fresno police detective’s affidavit says the Fresno High girl began having a relationship with Klassen when she was a 15-year-old freshman.
A Fresno police detective’s affidavit says the Fresno High girl began having a relationship with Klassen when she was a 15-year-old freshman. Shortly after she turned 16 in November 2013, she started having sex with Klassen, the affidavit says. She said the first encounter was in his classroom. She told detectives it was the first time she had sexual relations with anyone.
The affair then escalated to having sex with Klassen three to five days a week in the 2014-15 school year, the girl told detectives.
The girl told police that during the relationship she sent hundreds of sexually provocative photographs of herself to Klassen via text messages. At the direction of a detective, the girl called Klassen, who admitted in the recorded telephone call to having sex with the girl.
In his lawsuit, Paboojian calls Klassen “a child molester.” He says if Fresno Unified had done a background check on Klassen before he was hired, it would have learned that he had an inappropriate relationship with an 18-year-old student at Madera South High, where he taught for more than a decade before coming to Fresno High. Klassen ended up marrying the Madera South student and has two children with her. Court records say his wife filed for divorce in October and has sole custody of their children.
“Unfortunately, the staff and administration had all the warnings that would cause a reasonable person to comply with their mandated reporting requirements,” Paboojian says.
Instead, “they all chose to turn a blind eye to the ongoing sexual abuse and molestation of their female student/child,” he says.
Klassen will be sentenced on May 16. Until then, he is being held without bail in the Fresno County jail.