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Charter school sued for alleged molestation

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Posted: Saturday, October 1, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:53 am, Sat Oct 1, 2011.

The mother of a girl allegedly molested last fall by an art teacher at a Lodi Unified School District charter school is suing the alleged assailant, the school and another teacher allegedly involved in the abuse.

The plaintiff, whose 11-year-old daughter was an art student of Michael Hartsock at Aspire Schools, alleges in court documents prepared by attorney Trenton Diehl that her daughter was "systematically and methodically groomed for sexual molestation" by the educator.

The acts allegedly happened from August 2010 to December 2010 at Aspire Benjamin Holt College Preparatory Academy on East Morada Lane in Stockton. Aspire was granted charter status by Lodi Unified School District in January 1999.

It is part of a nonprofit charter school program featuring more than 30 campuses across the state. The system has also received funding from Oprah Winfrey and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Hartsock was previously arrested and faces six counts related to grooming a minor for sexual molestation, court documents show. Legal definitions of grooming involve befriending a victim to lower inhibitions for sexual activity.

He is out on bail and is due in court Nov. 23.

The complaint is also against Michael Merritt, a physical education teacher at the charter school.

Merritt allegedly arranged with Hartsock to let the girl remain alone with the art teacher during the victim's PE period, according to the complaint.

Although the victim had "rare or nonexistent" attendance in Merritt's class, she supposedly received an A+, the court document reads.

The complaint further alleges that Merritt wrote on the victim's report card that she was a "delight to have in class."

Text messages with phrases such as "I love you" were sent by Hartsock to the victim's personal cellphone, according to the document. It also alleges that Hartsock took the girl off campus on multiple occasions without parental or school permission.

No specifics were given in the complaint as to where he took the girl or how he was able to get her off campus.

According to the complaint, the victim did not consent to the abuse, which was described as Hartsock putting his hands on and between the girl's legs multiple times.

The complaint implicates the school for failing to intervene and for creating a work environment in which an older male was left alone with a young child.

Representatives for Aspire could not be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.

The family is seeking unspecified damages for mental and emotional distress, as well as compensation for medical costs and ongoing therapy.

Diehl is on vacation and was unable to comment on the case Friday afternoon.

Contact reporters Jordan Guinn at jordang@lodinews.com and Katie Nelson at katien@lodinews.com.

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  • Mike Adams posted at 7:07 pm on Thu, Oct 6, 2011.

    Mike Adams Posts: 1271

    Perhaps I shouldn't have left off the preamble and part 2 of my warning. In it's entirety it goes like this:
    (For teacher behind closed door with a student, particularly if it's the opposite sex, but not always)
    "When this goes bad and they always go bad', (Preamble)
    Who stands to lose everything?' (Part 1 warning)
    Who stands to gain everything, compassion, sympathy, and probably a big, a very big payday? Not the teacher" (Part 2)

    Also, since the DA has already filed charges, it doesn't look good for either of these two guys and it doesn't matter how nice they were. When this is over, I can't imagine either of them ever getting a teaching job in CA again, probably nowhere in the US. Great career move (if you wanted to get out of teaching).

    Let this be a warning, but every year, some new group of morons gets into the same hot water with the same outcome. What are they teaching in teacher preparation courses these days?

  • Kim Lee posted at 4:41 pm on Thu, Oct 6, 2011.

    Kim Lee Posts: 1798

    Why would their lawyer encourage this civil action before the criminal case is complete?

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 2:04 pm on Thu, Oct 6, 2011.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4310

    I think that the most telling part of this story is that the parent(s) are suing even before the criminal case has been resolved. Seems that once the criminal case is resolved, especially a guilty verdict, the chances are better for a civil win.

    Smells fishy....Maybe these parents can't wait to get their hands on that settlement check?

  • Mike Adams posted at 7:00 pm on Wed, Oct 5, 2011.

    Mike Adams Posts: 1271

    Well since mom is suing the school, she believes something happened. When I was in the classroom, I only occasionally emailed students, most of that was to the entire class. Occasionally someone would want to know a test score and I would email that student individually. I can't even begin to think why a male teacher would be sending repeated text messages to a student, a young girl at that.

    I made it a habit in my department that if I saw what might be questionable situations (not an actual act of some sort, for that must be reported immediately), like a male teacher and a female student alone in a room, door shut even between classes (and it goes goes ways male teacher-male student, female teacher-male student, female teacher-female student) I would give them this advice: If someone makes an allegation today, tomorrow, the end of the week, next year,....... Who do you think is going to lose? Who stands the chance of losing everything?
    Teachers constantly put themselves at risk, even I occasionally broke my own rules in regards to the door closed between passing periods, but mostly because I didn't get the door locked open right away. In cases like that, it's nice to have a history of someone who hasn't even gone close to the line rather than occasionally walking it.

  • Kim Lee posted at 8:52 pm on Mon, Oct 3, 2011.

    Kim Lee Posts: 1798

    Erika Cuevas: You have a lot to learn.

  • Kim Lee posted at 5:16 am on Mon, Oct 3, 2011.

    Kim Lee Posts: 1798

    The article states... "According to the complaint, the victim did not consent to the abuse, which was described as Hartsock putting his hands on and between the girl's legs multiple times."

    Of course the child did not give consent. A child cannot give legal consent for sexual contact. Also, an 11 year old student should not be receiving text messages from a teacher.

  • Erika Cuevas posted at 6:23 pm on Sun, Oct 2, 2011.

    Erika Cuevas Posts: 2

    I also attend Ben Holt and I agree with Monique. My sister and I have had art classes with Mr. Hartsock and we would eat our lunch in his classroom almost every day. We have never experienced any kind of lewd misconduct with him. Also, I think that the wording used by the writers seems to already be taking a certain position on the matter. Another thing is that the quote used, "I love you," can be taken out of context. For example, the girl could have been saying "no one loves me" or "no one cares about me." Honestly, how could a child be taken off campus several times without parental consent? They would have known one way or another. The audience reading this article has no background information on the individuals involved.

  • Monique Hasbun posted at 11:22 am on Sun, Oct 2, 2011.

    callmemoe Posts: 1

    So, I attend BHCPA, and you guys painted a totally horrible picture of Mr. Merrit. Most of the teachers put "Student was a pleasure to have in class" as their feedback... It is an option in the system and almost everyone chooses it.... this has no meaning what so ever and does not make Mr. Merrit involved at all.



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