MAYWOOD — One mother says her 6-year-old daughter lies awake at night, unable to sleep. Another says her daughter has taken to nervously chewing the ruffled hems of her school dresses.
Both children are among seven Heliotrope Elementary School first-grade girls who told police last October that they had been molested by their teacher, Stanley Komae. After an investigation, Komae was charged with 31 felony counts of child molestation and transferred to an administrative job.
The parents assumed that mental health experts from the Los Angeles Unified School District would then offer emotional counseling to their children and explain to the rest of Komae's class why he had been removed and why a police detective had asked each of them personal questions.
Parents Face Situation Alone
But the parents say they have been left to face the situation on their own because the school district won't act, and the court system can't act fast enough.
School district psychologists acknowledge that they are reluctant to enter the case, fearing that an offer of classroom counseling would imply that they believe the allegations against Komae are true when that is yet to be legally proven.
And although free psychological counseling is available through a court-sponsored victim-assistance program, the parents did not learn about it until more than two months after Komae's arrest.
Roland Summitt, a Torrance psychologist who specializes in treating child molestation, said it is imperative that molestation victims receive immediate counseling.
"There's a tremendous risk that these children will feel they have done something terribly wrong which has doomed them for their lifetime," Summitt said. "It's extremely important to work warmly and deeply with the children and their parents."
Without professional assistance, several of the Maywood parents said they have struggled to console their children in the wake of the investigation.
"I didn't know how to talk to her," said the mother of one alleged molestation victim.
"These kids are suffering," added the child's father. "The only thing backing them up is us--the parents. That's all."
The case against Komae began unfolding in September. One mother discovered a rash in her daughter's vaginal area, said Maywood Police Detective Ed Lozano, and reported it to school officials. Police were called, and after interviewing the children Lozano found that many of them told the same story.
"He (Komae) had this game he called the touching game," Lozano said. "He would send the boys out to recess. He would touch these girls one at a time at his desk."
Komae, 37, of Norwalk, has pleaded innocent to the charges, and the seven girls are scheduled to testify at a Feb. 24 preliminary hearing in Huntington Park Municipal Court. Komae is free on $20,000 bond, and after he was charged the district removed him from an administrative position and placed him on unpaid leave.
Shayla Lever, director of the district's child abuse prevention office, said it would have been improper for the district to offer counseling at this point.
"Until a person has been tried and convicted, no crime has occurred," Lever said. "It would be irresponsible and possibly illegal for the school district to contact any person under these circumstances."
After receiving reports that several children in the classroom were upset during school, Lever said a clinical social worker from her office called several parents to inform them of counseling available outside the school district. "Until or if this case is dropped, we're not going to do any more than that," she said, adding that counseling would be offered if Komae is convicted.
At one point, Lever said she considered having a classroom counseling session for Komae's students, as the district did when a third-grade teacher was convicted of molestation several years ago. Attorneys in the case ended up accusing the district's mental health workers of both downplaying and exaggerating the accusations, Lever said.
"You're always walking that narrow road," she said. "We really feel we don't want to in any way muddy up the investigation."
Psychologist Summitt criticized the district's policy, however, saying the children may interpret the lack of official action as indifference to their situation. "If these children went to school and were molested there, then the burden belongs with the school district," Summitt said.
"Agencies that refuse to acknowledge that responsibility by stonewalling . . . are digging themselves into a grossly unethical position."