California School Closed Amid Molestation Investigation

July 20, 2011 - 3:30 AM

School Molestation Investigation

A closure notice is seen at the Creative Frontiers preschool and elementary school Tuesday, July 19, 2011, after California officials closed the private school amid accusations of child molestation, in Citrus Heights, Calif. Authorities closed the school Monday, has they investigate allegations against principal Robert B. Adams of touching several students inappropriately. No charges have been filed against Adams. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A California private school has been deserted and closed by the state as police investigate allegations that its principal inappropriately touched young girls for years and that at least one staff member was aware of activities but failed to tell authorities.

A complaint filed by the Department of Social Services stated that several female students said they had been touched by Robert B. Adams, principal and founder of Creative Frontiers School in the Sacramento suburb of Citrus Heights.

"On numerous occasions, respondent Adams touched female children's bodies under their shirts and down their pants," the complaint said.

It went on to say that Adams — whom students referred to as "Mr. Bob" — also would "seclude female children under a computer desk and lie down with them on a mat in his office."

Police said Adams was the focus of the investigation but had not been arrested.

"I have to point out Mr. Adams is not under arrest and an arrest warrant has not been issued," Citrus Heights police spokesman Jon Kempf said. "Due to the sensitive nature of this investigation, we want to move slowly and cautiously."

The campus was empty Tuesday, with a sign posted on the office saying the school had been closed by the state. Swim towels had been left hanging to dry on a wire fence near the pool, and a sign-in sheet for parents dangled on a clipboard.

Adams could not be reached at the school, or at his home in Folsom, where white garbage bags had been taped to windows on the side of the front door in an apparent attempt to prevent people from looking in.

Shades were closed at the yellow, two-story house with a wraparound front porch.

Kempf said there were more than 10 children involved but declined to say exactly how many or if they were part of the campus pre-school or elementary school.

He said police had served search warrants and seized evidence from Adams' home and from the school that's attended by about 180 students.

Some of the alleged incidents dated back 15 years, police said.

Adams' attorney, Linda Parisi, said her client was saddened by the accusations.

"We're absolutely shocked. These are completely unfounded and we're confident that it will be clear when the investigation is over there is no foundation to the accusations," Parisi said.

She said with the exception of one disgruntled employee, there has never been a sustained complaint made against Adams or the school, which he founded in 1975.

A former receptionist, Irma Mertens, 62, told The Sacramento Bee that she made five calls to the state before investigators took her complaints seriously. She said she quit her job in May and gave police a spiral notebook filled with notes of everything she had seen.

No one answered the door at Mertens' home Tuesday afternoon when The Associated Press sought comment.

The Department of Social Services complaint listed an office administrator, Cynthia Higgins, as being aware of some of the allegations but failing to report anything to authorities. Attempts by the AP to reach Higgins were unsuccessful, and telephone messages left at the school over two days were not returned.

Parents said they were surprised by the allegations against Adams. Some were posting messages of support on the school's Facebook page.

Parent Cristina Azocar said outside the school that she found the allegations difficult to believe.

"I didn't have any bad feelings about him," said the 43-year-old mother, whose 3½-year-old son had been in a summer daycare program at the site before it was closed.

"I actually thought he was pretty nice. The kids seemed to be attached to him and that was one of the things that sold me on the school," she said.

Others said they were reacting cautiously until more information comes to light.

Shannon Panora was shocked to be greeted by police officers on Monday, when she arrived at Creative Frontiers to pick up her 5-year-old son from daycare. Even if the school reopens, she said she would not send her son back to the campus.

"Whether or not Mr. Adams is guilty or innocent, I can't take that chance with my son. I can't," she said. "And it's not fair to my son's health and safety."

Creative Frontiers School serves children in preschool up to sixth grade and is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Tuition to attend for a full school year is $6,507, according to the website.

The campus is located in a middle class, suburban setting, about 20 miles northeast of the state capital has

A rally in support of Adams had been planned by his daughter Tuesday afternoon at the school, but it was postponed.

The school's website says Adams was honored in 2008 as administrator of the year by the Professional Association for Childhood Education, a nonprofit organization for early childhood educators and professionals.

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Associated Press writer Sheila V Kumar contributed to this report from Sacramento, Calif.