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    Top Redlands Unified administrator placed on leave, district mum on reason
    • May 31, 2024

    Sabine Robertson-Phillips, a central figure in the alleged cover-up of sexual abuse allegations in the Redlands Unified School District, has been placed on administrative leave as assistant superintendent of human resources, the district announced Thursday, May 30.

    Robertson-Phillips, however, still remains employed with the district, Superintendent Juan Cabral said in a brief statement confirming the administrator’s absence after weeks of inquiry by the Southern California News Group.

    Cabral said Robertson-Phillips, who has been employed with the district since 1995 and served in her current position since 2007, was placed on leave on April 25, the day the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, following a four-year investigation, released a scathing 20-page letter citing the district’s failures in its handling and reporting of complaints of sexual abuse against students, including by employees.

    Cabral would not say why Robertson-Phillips was placed on leave, nor if it had anything to do with the federal investigation and the release of its report.

    “The District will not provide information regarding personnel matters due to confidentiality,” Cabral said in his emailed statement.

    Robertson-Phillips, 53, of Redlands could not be reached for comment Thursday.

    OCR findings

    Among the violations detailed in the OCR’s April 25 letter included the district’s failure to create or maintain sufficient records of its responses to sexual harassment complaints to demonstrate compliance with Title IX, a federal law enacted in 1972 that protects individuals from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

    The district, while not admitting to any Title IX violations, entered into an agreement with the federal government to, among other things, ensure compliance through its Title IX coordinator and revise, as necessary, its Title IX policies and procedures.

    In 74% of the 35 incidents the OCR reviewed involving complaints of sexual assault or harassment against students from 2017 to 2020, the federal agency found Redlands Unified did not provide any evidence that the district took action required under Title IX to “address the effects of harassing conduct on targeted students where necessary and to prevent recurrence of the harassment.”

    DOJ findings

    Confirmation by the district of Robertson-Phillips’ absence came a day after the state Department of Justice, following a two-year civil rights investigation, announced it will monitor how the school district handles allegations and reports of sexual harassment and abuse for at least the next five years.

    The state investigation found that Redlands Unified “systemically violated laws in place to protect against and address complaints related to sexual assault, harassment, and abuse,” including Title IX, the Child Abuse and Neglect and Reporting Act (CANRA) and parts of the California Education Code.

    As with the federal government, the district has also entered into an agreement with the state to make “wide-ranging reforms” to “promptly prevent, stop, and remedy sexual harassment, assault, or abuse on its campuses.”

    In February 2022, 19 former RUSD students called on state Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate the district. In their letter, the students said they were sexually abused by RUSD teachers and staff members and that current and former administrators had not been held accountable for failing to report the abuse and protect them.

    Sabine Robertson-Phillips, assistant superintendent of human resources for the Redlands Unified School District, was placed on leave on April 25. She was a central figure in a years-long investigation by the Southern California News Group into failures by the district to properly handle and report complaints of sexual misconduct. (Courtesy photo)

    SCNG investigation

    Robertson-Phillips was a focal point of a years-long investigation by the Southern California News Group that uncovered systemic failures by the district to report to authorities teachers and other employees accused of grooming and sexually abusing students.

    SCNG’s investigation also revealed that, in some cases, Redlands Unified officials thwarted police investigations of sexual abuse cases, according to lawsuits filed against the district, police reports and court records.

    Two of the most glaring cases of sexual abuse reporting failures involved former Citrus Valley High School teacher Laura Whitehurst and former Redlands High School teacher Kevin Patrick Kirkland. In each case Robertson-Phillips had been aware of allegations and suspicions of the two teachers’ conduct and had previously had discussions with them, but never reported either of them to police or San Bernardino County Child Protective Services.

    Whitehurst was charged with 41 felony counts of unlawful sex acts with minors and later pleaded guilty in San Bernardino Superior Court to six felonies for having sexual relations with three of her students at Citrus Valley High School and Redlands High School. She was sentenced to a year in jail and five years probation.

    Kirkland pleaded guilty in April 2017 to eight felonies and three misdemeanors for sexually abusing four female students from June 2014 through May 2016. He was sentenced to two years in jail, but was granted credit for time served and released the same day after serving 13 months behind bars.

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    Civil settlements

    Since 2016, Redlands Unified has paid more than $45.5 million to settle lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of students by former district teachers. The district has settled at least 17 such lawsuits with the Irvine law firm of Manly, Stewart & Finaldi, which represented victims of Whitehurst and Kirkland, along with victims of other former teachers and employees, said Morgan Stewart, a partner at the firm.

    Stewart has been a fierce critic of Robertson-Phillips, and for years has demanded her ouster.

    “If she’s been on leave but still employed, it is far more disturbing knowing the information in the (Department of Justice) report,” Stewart said Thursday. “That is saying her conduct is OK and we are just waiting for the furor to die down. Status quo of Redlands to protect those at fault versus protecting the students.”

    ​ Orange County Register