The LeConte School Auditorium, a cream and brick colored building with three doors. A few students play guitar outside.
Two students who attended LeConte Elementary School in the 1980s say a teacher’s aide sexually abused them. LeConte was later renamed Sylvia Mendez Elementary. File photo: Natalie Ornstein

Two former Berkeley Unified students filed a lawsuit against a teacher’s aide and the school district claiming they were abused repeatedly in elementary school in the 1980s and administrators failed to intervene.

Kandyce Robinson and Monet DeLane said that the same teacher’s aide sexually abused them years apart when they were students at LeConte Elementary, now Sylvia Mendez, in Berkeley.

Robinson alleges in the suit that the abuse began when she was 4 years old. The teacher’s aide, whom the students called D.J., would take her out of her kindergarten class and sexually abuse her in the auditorium in 1986. (Robinson and DeLane do not know the aide’s full name, the suit says.)

The suit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court last year, claims school staff turned “a blind eye to red flags.” Though the aide removed her from class for extended periods of time, no one intervened, according to the suit. 

When Robinson did report the abuse in 1992, school officials did not investigate or report her allegations to the police, the suit claims.

Monet DeLane said that the same teacher’s aide abused her several years later in 1989. She was 7 years old when the aide began taking her away from the after-school program at LeConte and assaulting her in an empty classroom or the school library, according to the suit.

BUSD is fighting the case in court. A district spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The two women hope the lawsuit will help shine a light on the issue of childhood sexual abuse in schools, bringing accountability and making schools safer for students today. “How many kids have been affected? How many times has he done this? How many times in Berkeley school systems have things been pushed under the rug?” Robinson asked.

“LeConte was an awesome school. We had a really good experience — except for that. And I probably would have enjoyed my experience a lot better if I didn’t have that heaviness on me as a kid,” Robinson said.

The women, now 40 years old, said it has taken them years to grapple with their abuse. For a long time, they told no one. As children, both internalized that it had been their fault. Though the two women grew up together, they never told one another. It was only a few years ago that they realized, thanks to a mutual friend, that they both had been abused by the same teacher’s aide.

“I was completely mind-blown,” DeLane said. They talked on the phone for hours, sharing feelings that they didn’t think anyone would be able to understand.

“These pedophiles … one of the things they count on is the fact that people will stay silent,” said Daniel Cha, an attorney with the law firm Greenberg Gross, who is representing the women in the case.

During a visit to her old elementary school, Robinson ended up telling the principal about the abuse she experienced there as a child. The principal filed a police report and, when a lawyer reached out to her, Robinson agreed to file the lawsuit that DeLane joined.

The case is one of several recent sex abuse cases filed against Berkeley Unified, following a 2020 state law that temporarily removed the statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse. It gave people until age 40 to file civil complaints, and opened a three-year window for even older allegations that closed in 2022.

Fifty-one Bay Area schools are facing childhood sex abuse suits, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, and Greenberg Gross is representing other clients in similar cases. Childhood sexual abuse lawsuits have also flooded institutions like the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America and bankrupted the Oakland Diocese of the Catholic Church.

 “The point of these lawsuits is to make sure that … these institutions have the right incentives to protect kids from further abuse,” Cha said.

The women are suing for emotional damages they say they experienced throughout their lives. Both unmarried without kids, they said the abuse made it difficult for them to have healthy relationships. Although DeLane had always wanted children of her own, she shied away, alway concerned they would become victims, too. 

“It affects you for the rest of your life. It never goes away,” Robinson said.

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Ally Markovich, who covers the school beat for Berkeleyside, is a former high school English teacher. Her work has appeared in The Oaklandside, The New York Times, Huffington Post and Washington Post,...