Students, parents had raised concerns about Castro Valley High School music teacher before sex abuse charges

Posted on September 18, 2023

Parents in Castro Valley are sharply criticizing school administrators for delaying an investigation amid early signs of improper behavior by a high school music teacher who was charged this week with sexually abusing a student.

Visual and performing arts teacher Keita Hasegawa, 31, was booked Thursday at Santa Rita Jail and is scheduled for arraignment Monday, according to online jail records. He remained in custody Friday.

Months earlier, at a public board meeting April 26 of the Castro Valley Unified School District, parent John O’Hara told board members that his family received an email informing them that Hasegawa — who had been put on leave in March immediately following allegations of possible inappropriate teacher-student behavior — was scheduled to return to the classroom.

“My wife and I were gravely concerned,” O’Hara told the board. “When we went directly to law enforcement, we learned that there is still an active investigation underway. None of the evidence shared by students to open the investigation was turned over by school administration. Orders not to cooperate with law enforcement came from — in the words of the sergeant I spoke to — came from higher up (in the district). As a result, I have no confidence in the school district to appropriately handle this matter.”

O’Hara did not disclose who sent the email, and Hasegawa did not return to classes. O’Hara declined to comment further when contacted by this newspaper this week. District officials say they acted promptly when they learned of Hasegawa’s alleged improprieties.

The Alameda County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday charged Hasegawa with seven felony counts, including two counts of oral copulation of a person under 16; two counts of sexual penetration by foreign object; two counts of lewd act upon a child; and a single count of contacting a minor to commit a sex crime, according to a criminal complaint.

The charged offenses involved a girl in one of Hasegawa’s classes and occurred from 2021 to 2023, according to prosecutors. But Hasegawa didn’t come under official suspicion until March of this year, when the high school’s principal, Chris Fortenberry, reported to police that Hasegawa admitted to being at the girl’s home while she was going through a mental health crisis, ostensibly to provide “moral support,” according to authorities.

Hasegawa allegedly communicated with the girl using the chat app Discord, according to authorities. Also in March, students in Hasegawa’s classroom photographed his computer screen that allegedly showed he sent such messages to the girl as, “I love you babe,” and “Sweet dreams gorgeous,” according to authorities. The students alerted school staff to the incident.

It remained unclear Friday whether Hasegawa had retained an attorney.

At the April 26 school board meeting, one of the students who took pictures of Hasegawa’s computer in March told the board she brought the photos to school administration and was told to be discreet and not spread rumors. She did not specify to whom she brought the photos.

“I remained discreet for four weeks, hardly telling anyone anything about the situation,” the student said. “On April 20, I was called into another meeting with administration and fellow students where they told us that Hasegawa would be returning to school the following week. At the time, it was truly unthinkable that this could happen.”

The student said the school about a week later announced the music teacher would not return for the remainder of the school year.

That student’s mother told the board that their family previously contacted the Sheriff’s Office, which collected a statement from her daughter and photographic evidence.

“They stated they had not received this evidence prior to receiving it that night,” the mother said. “This was also later confirmed by another representative in the sheriff’s department. So it appears that in making their mandated report, the administration withheld the most concrete evidence that they had against this teacher.”

Hasegawa taught band at Creekside Middle School before moving to Castro Valley High School in 2021.

Other students who spoke at the April 26 board meeting alleged Hasegawa was unprofessional, displaying favoritism in the classroom and making demoralizing comments.

“I’ve seen firsthand several instances of where Mr. Hasegawa has crossed lines,” one student said. “He is violent in the classroom, sometimes throwing and slamming objects, yelling at students and kicking students out. He gets very personally upset with students, sometimes calling them names and being what I see as incredibly immature.”

The principal’s office this week directed questions to the school district. In a prepared statement Thursday, Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi argued that the district had handled the case properly. She said Hasegawa was placed on leave when school officials first learned of his possible inappropriate behavior with a minor and had not been allowed on campus since then.

“Additionally, we contacted local law enforcement so they could investigate the situation; we have and will continue to cooperate with law enforcement so that facts and the law may guide a just outcome for this situation,” Ahmadi said. “Because this situation involves personnel and labor laws, we are not able to offer additional details other than to reaffirm to our full school community, including students, staff and families, that we are committed to ensure student safety and well-being and will work in earnest to take allegations of inappropriate conduct seriously on behalf of our students.”

Ahmadi did not respond to questions asking to confirm Hasegawa’s employment status or whether the district will review how it handled reports of Hasegawa’s alleged inappropriate behavior.

But another student — who said Hasegawa gave special attention to certain female students, “buying them boba and food and giving them rides in his private car” — stated the teacher’s alleged actions went unchecked.

“Because children are naturally naive and trusting of adults, Keita Hasegawa was able to get away with these behaviors,” the student said. The student added: “Keep in mind that this guy is 31 and all of who he was (talking) to were minors. Keep in mind that this guy was our teacher that we looked in the face every single day and treated with respect when in the background he consciously had these extremely inappropriate relationships with students.”

Staff writer Nate Gartrell contributed to this report.

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