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Family in Sex Case Targets Schools

Investigation: Attorney is hired to learn what Camarillo educators knew of alleged abuse involving teacher.

April 05, 2002|JENIFER RAGLAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While a criminal investigation continues into a Camarillo teacher accused of having sex with students, an attorney has been hired by the family of an alleged victim to determine how much and when school officials knew about the alleged activity.

Brenda Andrade of Ventura said she represents one of 11 alleged male victims of Camarillo High science teacher Chad Pridgen, 30, who is scheduled to be arraigned today on six new charges.

The boy's father wants to know whether teachers and administrators knew or should have known teens were frequenting Pridgen's home for weekend parties that authorities say included alcohol, pornography and sexual abuse, Andrade said.

"Given that so many boys were allegedly molested and the extended time period in which this happened, he finds it difficult to believe the school had no knowledge of this alleged abuse," Andrade said.

Nancy Koch, an Oxnard Union High School District trustee, said she was unaware of accusations against Pridgen before his arrest and that officials would have taken any complaints very seriously.

"As a member of the school board I can say, unequivocally, that if there was ever even a hint of anything going on, and it came to the attention of someone at the school, it would be investigated immediately," she said.

Supt. Gary Davis is on vacation this week and could not be reached Thursday. The school district's attorney, Jack Parham, also was unavailable for comment.

Andrade said she intends to file a civil claim against Pridgen within two months seeking damages and alleging sexual abuse, child abuse and infliction of emotional distress. She also said she may represent other alleged victims.

Whether the school district is sued over negligence depends on what the private investigator finds, Andrade said.

"If the school was somehow put on notice that something off-color was happening and didn't do something to investigate it, I think that's unconscionable, and we would definitely be filing a lawsuit," she said.

Pridgen is accused of having oral sex with or trying to seduce 11 teenage boys, all but two of whom are Camarillo High School students.

A teacher of upper-level chemistry and environmental science courses, Pridgen also coached boys' soccer and girls' and boys' tennis.

He has been on unpaid leave since his arrest Feb. 5.

Authorities say the alleged sex acts occurred at Pridgen's Camarillo residence, where students had gathered nearly every weekend for nearly two years.

Other students, however, say they had been to Pridgen's house for after-school and weekend get-togethers but that nothing illegal or inappropriate occurred.

One of those students was Jason Schechter, a former Pridgen student now studying aerospace engineering at UCLA.

Ken Schechter, Jason Schechter's father, said he knew his son had spent time at his teacher's home and was not concerned. He is one of the parents who maintain Pridgen's innocence.

"I've known him as a teacher and a coach," Schechter said. "He has been to our house, we talked to him, and we trust him."

But the issue has prompted trustee Koch to consider looking into a policy that would inform parents and students that unchaperoned contact with a district employee outside of school is not acceptable, and that any violation should be reported.

Koch said it is wrong for a teacher to regularly have students in his or her home and will ask the superintendent to look into the possibility of implementing such a policy.

"I want to make sure we're doing everything we can do to protect our students," she said.

At the arraignment today, prosecutors plan to ask a judge to at least double Pridgen's $250,000 bail, according to court records.

Prosecutors say Pridgen violated a term of his release--that he have no contact with minors without their parents' direct supervision--when he got a job at a Sherman Oaks talent-scouting agency working with children and teens.

Pridgen also violated another condition of his release, prosecutors argue, when he purchased a plane ticket to Washington, D.C., last month. A court order requires he remain in California until the case is resolved.

Pridgen's Los Angeles attorneys have repeatedly declined to comment on behalf of their client.

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