SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — A former California principal accused of failing to report the suspected sexual abuse of a young student at her school tearfully told jurors that she believed a teacher when he told her the reason he had blindfolded the girl and put something in her mouth was to teach her about Helen Keller.
Lyn Vijayendran, onetime principal of San Jose's O.B. Whaley Elementary School, testified Thursday that the second-grade teacher appeared forthright and "looked me right in the eye" when he explained that what had happened was part of a classroom lesson.
Santa Clara County prosecutors have charged Vijayendran, 36, with failure to report child abuse, a misdemeanor. The law requires principals, teachers and others who come into contact with children to report suspected child abuse.
The charge came after Vijayendran was told last fall of a possible molestation and she determined through her own investigation that no crime had been committed, authorities said. Police later found four more girls at the school that were believed to have been molested.
Vijayendran has since been reassigned. She could serve up to six months in jail if convicted, the San Jose Mercury News reported (http://bit.ly/Pq42P5).
The teacher, 35-year-old Craig Chandler, was arrested in January and has been charged with five counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14, involving five children. Authorities say a crime lab found his semen on a classroom chair.
Chandler has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is in jail pending his own trial and faces a maximum sentence of 75 years to life if convicted.
Vijayendran told jurors that Chandler's interview with her was very persuasive, and that he told her his "instructional goal" was to deprive participating students of sight. Chandler said he used a bath sponge on the student's foot and legs and put a bottle containing salty water in her mouth.
Chandler also said his classroom door was open, though the student said it was closed, Vijayendran said.
"He said students learned better by doing," she said. "He was very convincing."
Vijayendran also testified she was convinced the student's demeanor was completely out of character for someone who had been molested.
"She had a big smile on her face," Vijayendran said. "She was her normal self, very talkative, the same as if she was talking about what she'd perform at the talent show."
Vijayendran also said that during an interview, the girl and her mother didn't contend that the incident was sexual in nature — only that it was strange. The mother is a legal immigrant.
Vijayendran added she did what she thought was right at the time. "Now, looking back, I have a different lens," she said.
During her cross-examination, Vijayendran admitted she was worried before speaking to Chandler about the sexually suggestive aspects of his behavior toward the girl.
Among other concerns, the child reported the teacher told her to "open her two legs."
"If someone said that to you in a grocery store line, you'd slap him, wouldn't you?" prosecutor Alison Filo asked.
Vijayendran agreed, saying: "You'd have to be crazy not to think that (his behavior could be sexual)."
The jury could get the case as early as Friday.
Information from: San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, http://www.mercurynews.com