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Westview High School / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

I’ve been on a thrilling run of amazing books recently, the latest of which was Lisa Taddeo’s “Three Women,” which, as you might guess, follows the real lives of three women – with a focus on their sexual desires and despair.

It’s enthralling, but it was also a bit too familiar.

That’s because one of the storylines follows Maggie Wilken, a young North Dakota woman who began a sexual relationship with her teacher while she was an underage high school student. Wilken later confessed the relationship to police and participated in the criminal prosecution – only to be attacked by members of the community. In the end, despite having physical love notes written by the teacher, phone records showing hundreds of hours of late-night phone calls between the two and Wilken accurately describing the interior of the teacher’s home, he was acquitted of the charges. Then he was reinstated to his teaching job – with back pay.

In a particularly devastating passage, Wilken and her family members stage a protest outside the school. A counterprotest assembles in which people rally to express their support for the teacher. People drive by, shouting insults at Wilken and honking support for the counterprotesters. You’re too ugly to be raped, they tell her. They wave signs that say things like “Best teacher we’ve ever had.”

Wilken’s story is familiar in the obvious way: For two years, we’ve been reporting on stories just like hers of young, vulnerable students who were seduced by adult teachers and then failed in various ways by the systems designed to protect them.

But it was familiar in another, more specific way too. Because many of the victims weren’t just let down by school and law enforcement officials handling their cases, they also had to deal with fellow students and community members telling them that their stories didn’t matter. Or worse, that they weren’t real.

In Coronado, a coach accused of inappropriate conduct with a student (we’ve been seeking more records that would shed light on the accusations against Randy Burgess, but have been continually denied) was the subject of a Facebook page titled “We Stand With Randy” and a petition with more than 1,000 signatures demanding he be reinstated to his job, as the U-T reported.

In Poway, students at Westview High School received a mysterious text asking them to show support for Tim Medlock, a teacher and coach disciplined for sending inappropriate text messages to a student.

“I am reaching out to you to take five minutes to support Coach Medlock, as he NEEDS your support right now….if you feel like so many students do — he is a man of good character, he has high morals and values and he is a positive role model and educator, then PLEASE show your support by writing a brief to the (district),” the text read.

In Chula Vista, a student who was groomed and sexually abused by his band instructor encountered this as the case played out: “He vividly remembers a poster of support for the band director hanging from the wall – along with numerous trophies and awards the band had won under his direction. The poster was signed by ‘Club Blue’ band members at the school – members of that program appeared at Mangan-Magabilin’s sentencing in support as well.”

So much of our reporting of these stories has focused on the abusers – and the systems that protected them. But these cases show that victims are often traumatized yet again by another party too: the community members who loudly, proudly rally to their abusers’ sides.

What VOSD Learned This Week

A new data analysis we did in partnership with UC San Diego Extension Center for Research shows that higher-poverty schools in San Diego Unified tend to have less-experienced teachers. Will Huntsberry also examined what’s driving the teacher experience gap. Elsewhere in the county, the problem is especially acute at one school – where more than half of the teaching staff is new to campus and most of those are new to teaching altogether.

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Last week I gushed about the insane amount of impact Voice of San Diego reporters have had lately. Add another one to the pile: SDPD announced a major change to its crime lab leadership this week following VOSD’s reporting on how the lab has handled backlogged rape kits.

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Lisa Halverstadt wrote up a useful explainer on the ballot measure seeking to raise hotel room taxes. When we asked convention center board member Carol Kim about how the effort to pass the measure is going at our live podcast, she responded, “It’s … going.” (Flushed cheeks emoji.)

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“It brings me no pleasure to admit that a man is correct.” – A great lede to a piece conceding that John Mayer has a point about Taylor Swift’s song “Lover”

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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