Former O.C. School of the Arts student sues district

Former OC School of the Arts Student Sues District
World book and copyrights day and international legal rights concept with old book in library with judge gavel on open law textbook in court archive text collection study room Photo credit Getty Images

SANTA ANA (CNS) - A former student of the Orange County School of the Arts has filed a lawsuit against the Santa Ana Unified School District alleging the school's founder sexually assaulted him, according to a copy of the suit obtained today.

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The lawsuit against the district and OCSA founder Ralph S. Opacic was filed Thursday. The plaintiff, who is not named, lived in California and was born in 1987, the same year the school was founded, according to the suit.

Messages to representatives from the district and the school were not immediately returned. Opacic retired following the end of the 2021-22 school year.

``This case is about a preventable and tragic situation created when the founder of one of the most prestigious arts schools in the country began taking advantage of vulnerable students who enrolled at OCSA to escape adversity,'' the lawsuit alleged. ``Many students flocked to OCSA to escape bullying and gain professional preparation for careers within the arts.

However, this case unfortunately spotlights the OCSA administration's decision to turn a blind eye to rumors and other red flags of Opacic's misconduct with minor students, all in an effort to protect the reputation of the well-known and talented founder of OCSA.''

Opacic founded the school as an after-school arts program in 1987 in Los Alamitos, but it took off and in 2000, he opened it as a charter school in Santa Ana. The school has a number of notable alumni.

The plaintiff began attending the school in 2000.

``Growing up in Oakland, plaintiff was bullied for is interest in the performing arts, but he finally felt like he belonged when he began taking classes at OCSA,'' according to the suit. The plaintiff ``quickly fell in love with OCSA, and he began immersing himself in every aspect of the school.''

The plaintiff said he quickly caught on, however, that the school community ``emphasized ... the need to protect the school and Opacic's vision for OCSA.

The teachers, faculty and administration fed into a cult-like mentality that idolized Opacic and his vision. This idolization of Opacic became so omnipotent that even when rumors about Opacic's sexual involvement with students began to circulation, the teachers, faculty and administration turned a blind eye.''

The  plaintiff said he was warned about ``rumors that Opacic had been sexually involved with other minor students. In fact, the rumors were discussed with such ease, that the idea of sexual relations between the students of OCSA and Opacic almost seemed normalized.''

The plaintiff said when he was a junior, and aged 17, Opacic ``began singling (him) out for sexual grooming,'' the lawsuit alleged.

It started with ``teasing'' emails that became more ``sexually explicit and inappropriate,'' the lawsuit alleged. The plaintiff was not initially offended and instead took it meant he was ``special.''

After weeks of the flirting, Opacic sent for the plaintiff while he was in history class, the lawsuit alleged. The student went to see Opacic who is accused of sexually assaulting him in his office.

Several weeks later, Opacic met the plaintiff at a restaurant in Tustin, where Opacic allegedly asked him not to tell anyone about the sexual assault, the suit alleged.

The lawsuit claims negligence, negligent supervision and retention, sexual battery and sexual harassment.

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