VALLEJO – As she was moving a few years ago, Grace found a box full of photos, letters, and cards from when she was a student at Vallejo’s Hogan High School in the 1980s. The school shut down years ago, and the box was unopened for nearly two decades.
Grace, now 58 years old, said one photograph practically knocked her off her feet. In the photo, she’s 15 years old, wearing the school's ugly blue and white uniform and happy to be part of a team. She had been a mat maid — essentially a cheerleader — for the Hogan High wrestling team.
The photo was taken before a Hogan High teacher and wrestling coach, Andrew Foley, began sexually abusing her, she alleges in a recently filed lawsuit.
"And I thought, 'Oh my God, there's that little girl that I haven't known in so long,’” Grace said. “And that’s what started me on this long trip.”
The Vallejo Sun is using a pseudonym to protect Grace’s identity because she is an alleged victim of childhood sexual abuse.
Decades later, Grace has come forward about what happened to her. She’s suing the Vallejo City Unified School District, alleging the district failed to investigate, report, or prevent abuse that occurred both on and off school grounds.
The lawsuit is one of dozens of cases filed against school districts throughout the state because of AB 218, a state law passed in 2019 that temporarily provided victims of childhood sexual abuse the chance to bring claims against churches, schools, and other institutes regardless of how long ago the misconduct occurred.
“He had some kind of mental hold on me," Grace said. "This happened to me, shouldn't have happened to me and should never happen to any child. You don’t have to just be quiet.”
Foley could not be reached for comment.
Director of communications for the Vallejo City Unified School District Celina Baguiao said in an email that school officials could not comment on pending litigation.
“Although the current superintendent was not in a leadership role during these alleged incidents, as you can imagine, he is very concerned about the nature of the allegations.” Baguiao wrote. “Our top priority is the safety and well-being of our students and staff.”
Experts in childhood sexual abuse cases say many victims do not come forward until years or decades after the abuse occurs, if they do at all. Victims may fear the response from perpetrators if they come forward or not recognize what they’ve gone through as abuse until well into adulthood.
The push to reform the statute of limitation laws on childhood sexual abuse cases acknowledges that reality, said Marci A. Hamilton, the founder of CHILD USA, a nonprofit focused on child abuse prevention.
"Hardly anybody understood the actual reality of the prevelance of childhood sexual abuse. But the science got better,” Hamilton said. “These lawsuits are the only ways we've been able to learn about systematic cover up.”
The suit was filed against the Vallejo school district by attorneys with Lewis & Llewellyn LLP. It describes how in 1980, Grace was new to Hogan High and lived with her older sister. She babysat Foley's three sons for him and his wife, and confided in Foley, who was charismatic and popular.
She alleges that Foley began a years-long pattern of raping her on a regular basis on school property and at school events. Police interrupted Foley several times while he raped her in his parked van, but Foley told her to lie and tell the officers that she was at least 18 years old, according to the lawsuit.
“And he would just laugh,” Grace remembered. “He had no fear of getting caught. He thought it was kind of funny how scared I was when the police would catch us.”
According to the suit, knowledge of their relationship was widespread on campus, and the school’s athletic director, Ed Sarna, knew about the abuse and compared Foley to another coach who had sexually abused a student in the early 1970s. Sarna later apologized to Grace for not doing more to protect her, according to the lawsuit. Sarna died in 2008.
An acquaintance of Grace said she had also called the Hogan High School front office and told a woman who answered the phone that the school needed to keep an eye on its wrestling coach, according to the lawsuit.
The acquaintance, who spoke with the Vallejo Sun and asked not to be named to protect her privacy, said Foley was like “a missing stair,” an analogy for how people ignore predators rather than address their behavior.
"Everybody knows it's there, and it's missing, and they know to step around it," she said. "And nobody does anything about it. He was their missing stair. They knew about it, but stepped around it.”
In 1982, according to the lawsuit, Foley left Hogan High and went on to teach at Solano Middle School, where he was allegedly terminated for physically assaulting a male student.
Several of the lawsuits filed in the Bay Area in recent years about alleged sexual abuse in schools involve allegations against athletic coaches. That includes lawsuits in Los Gatos, Marin County, San Jose, and Berkeley.
John Winer, a senior partner at Winer, Burritt & Scott, who specializes in sexual abuse cases, said coaches are often in a position to take more control over kids’ lives under the guise of taking care of them.
"Schools will create policies that are pretty good, but there's nobody enforcing them," Winer said. "Most of the policies seem to have to do with teachers and classrooms, and [when] you get to after-school sports at the school, it's like the wild, wild west.”
Many of the victims filing civil complaints for abuse in older cases say they want to prevent abuse from happening again, and lawsuits offer the opportunity for them to be heard.
Grace said filing the lawsuit and reliving what she went through has been like living in both the past and the present at once. But she’s also been moved by the support she’s received since coming forward.
"It's been difficult, but it has allowed me to breathe air that I hadn't been able to for so many years,” she said. “I made it this far. I’m here. People are believing me.”
The case against the Vallejo City Unified School District is currently set to go to a jury trial in October.
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THE VALLEJO SUN NEWSLETTER
Investigative reporting, regular updates, events and more
- Vallejo City Unified School District
- Hogan High School
- Andrew Foley
- AB 218
- Celina Baguiao
- CHILD USA
- Marci Hamilton
- Ed Sarna
- John Winer
Holly McDede is a fill-in reporter and producer at KQED radio in San Francisco where her reporting focuses on sexual misconduct in schools as well as efforts to curb fatal drug overdoses.
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