Paul Chapel "was the popular teacher, the teacher who always had candies… (L.A. Unified )
A former teacher at a Pacoima elementary school who continued to work in Los Angeles Unified schools despite several red flags was sentenced Thursday to 25 years in prison after he admitted molesting 13 students.
In letters read to Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lloyd Nash, the parents of three victims explained how third-grade teacher Paul Chapel lured the Telfair Elementary School children before molesting them.
One mother, identified as Darlene, wrote that Chapel "personally requested" her son to be in his class. "At the time, I thought it was because he was concerned and cared about my son's education and academic placement. I never once thought it was a setup for him to prey on my son!" according to the letter read by Deputy Dist. Atty. Elena Abramson.
"He was the popular teacher, the teacher who always had candies and snacks in his class, giving treats to the kids. I realize now it was just all part of his plan to build relationships and confidence with the parents and students so as to eventually victimize our children."
Another parent, Ann, wrote to the court that her daughter has "trouble sleeping at night" and remains "scared and nervous" in school.
Chapel, 51, pleaded no contest last month to 13 counts of lewd acts on a child. The children were between the ages of 8 and 9.
He was initially charged in October 2011 with molesting four children, but prosecutors later filed additional charges involving nine more children.
Chapel had continued to work in the L.A. Unified School District despite a troubled past. He was tried but not convicted in a 1997 alleged molestation. Also, he had previously left a private school after allegedly making inappropriate remarks during a sex-education class. Parents at Telfair were not informed of his past.
"The failure of our school district's policies, the failure of school administrators to identify signs that are common 'red flags' were ignored and for that, our children and our families have paid a tremendous price," parent Darlene wrote to Nash.
At least two of the 13 victims have filed a lawsuit against L.A. Unified.
"Paul Chapel was allowed by the L.A. Unified back into the classroom," said attorney Thomas Cifarelli, who filed the suit. "These things happened in the school and classroom where unsupervised he preyed on unsuspecting children."
L.A. Unified never conducted an internal investigation into Chapel after the 1997 allegation that he molested an 8-year-old neighbor who was sleeping at his house. District officials said the reason may be that the incident occurred off-campus. Without a criminal conviction, the district did not automatically examine matters that took place off school grounds.
The school district suspended Chapel without pay from Andasol Avenue Elementary in Northridge, where he had worked for about a decade. The molestation case went to trial, but the jury did not reach a verdict and prosecutors opted not to retry the case.