Valencia High teacher sues district, alleging racism, harassment, retaliation

A Valencia High School teacher is suing the school, William S. Hart Union High School District and multiple administrators over claims the district failed to investigate many instances of sexual harassment, racist conduct and threatening acts that occurred as recent as last year.

Kimberly Forbes filed the civil suit against the school, district and administrators last Wednesday because she feels the district retaliated against her after she brought multiple incidences of sexual harassment, racial taunts and violent student behaviors to the attention of her superiors and failed to “censor” student projects, a court complaint obtained by The Signal states.

A spokesperson for the Hart District said Tuesday the district and school can’t comment on pending litigation or matters that pertain to students and staff. In the lawsuit, Forbes alleges the district and Valencia High maintained, fostered and condoned an official policy, practice and culture that failed to adequately investigate the events that she and her students experienced, both on- and off- campus.

Sexual harassment, racism, vandalism

“In February 2018, several black female students spoke to Forbes privately in her office about their mistreatment by a white male student ‘J.S.’ in Forbes’ sixth period class, who they complained grabbed their buttocks and breasts, forced them to look at pornographic images and called the black female students ‘monkeys,’ ‘chimp’ and threatened one student that he would ‘f—- her while wearing a confederate flag to make my family proud,’” the complaint states.

But the suit alleges “J.S.” wasn’t the first student with tendencies like these whom Forbes had interacted with during her time as a teacher in the Santa Clarita Valley.

After Forbes reported the student known as J.S. to her supervisors in 2018, “it was Forbes who was formally reprimanded,” the complaint added. “Instead of removing J.S. from Forbes’ course … J.S. was transferred to another section of Forbes’ period but continued to harass those same girls as they exited the sixth period class.”

“In October of 2015, several of the students in Forbes’ video production studio course complained about a student (referred to as) A.S. who was groping their breasts/buttocks and exposing his testicles and buttocks to them, all without their consent,” the complaint states. Forbes reported the claims to former Valencia Principal John Costanzo and current Hart High School Assistant Principal Elizabeth Wilson — who are both listed as defendants in Forbes’ suit — but no action was taken, the lawsuit alleges.

“A.S. then showed up at Forbes’ home and threatened Forbes by vandalizing her car. Reluctantly, (administrators) later agreed to remove A.S. from Forbes’ class but only on the condition that Forbes grant him an A for his overall course grade,” according to the complaint. “Forbes reluctantly obliged, in order to protect her students from further sexual violence, threats and sexual harassment.”

Forbes said in the court complaint that the failure of the school and its administrators to act, constituted deliberate indifference to the discriminatory behavior that was occuring on-campus, which is only one reason why she brought forth the civil suit.

‘Unwelcoming’ environment

“In October 2016, a viral video was spread on the internet that depicted several Valencia students chanting the N-word while playing a game of hangman for which the answer was ‘I HATE ALL (N-word),’” the complaint stated. “In response, Forbes spoke out against the racially hostile environment at Valencia and, as faculty adviser to the Black Student Union, assisted in producing an award-winning documentary about the history of the N-word, which the administration balked at showing to the student body.”

Forbes was also reprimanded and told by VHS administrators that it was her responsibility to censor what Forbes considered protected speech, according to the court document.

Years later, in February 2018, Forbes’ students produced the annual promotional video for Valentine’s Day, which traditionally includes a kiss between two student leaders.

“In 2018, the students chose to feature a same-gender couple kissing,” the complaint states. “When the Valencia administrators learned about the fact that the video would feature a (same-gender couple) instead of an opposite-gender couple, Forbes was reprimanded in writing for failing to censor the student video and the project was unilaterally cancelled because it made the vice principal ‘uncomfortable.’”

Forbes was again reprimanded in March 2018 for not censoring a public service announcement pertaining to gun violence and mass shootings and another student-produced piece on immigration reform.

On May 30, 2018, Forbes was informed by Costanzo that she was being stripped of her position as director of VHS’ award-winning video production studio, which, she alleged in the complaint, violates California Education Code 48907(g).

The former director remains on the school’s staff directory, “(but) was forced to transfer to the English department and was replaced in the video production studio by a white male, who thereafter censored student videos in terms of the topics and information communicated,” according to the complaint. “As a result of being demoted, Forbes incurred a reduction in pay and substantially diminished professional exposure. Forbes also experienced a severe psychiatric event that requires ongoing medical treatment and hospitalization.”

After outlining the five causes of action and detailing the incidents related to the civil suit, the complaint states: “Plaintiff hereby requests a trial by jury as to all claims for monetary damages.”

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