High school biology teacher Kimberly Bohnert said she'll likely never shake a shocking invasion of privacy that's put an all-boys Catholic high school under fire.
Bohnert said some students at San Mateo's Junipero Serra High School violated her privacy in the most unthinkable way, taking upskirt cell phone photos and videos of her private area as other students distracted her - and then sharing those images around school.
Bohnert filed a lawsuit in San Francisco County Court on Thursday, alleging a hostile environment, failure to prevent harassment and infliction of emotional distress. The alleged behavior occurred a year ago.
School administrators have expelled six students and suspended six more. San Mateo police confirmed they referred six kids to the juvenile probation department for possible prosecution and probation for allegations of secretly taping someone through their clothing without consent.
Bohnert said that while she was helping one student, another was putting a phone up her dress. The boys then texted and emailed the videos to their buddies, she said.
"How could they do this?" she said. “I’m their teacher."
Bohnert learned about the photos last May when she said a student who had seen them told an administrator. She says she was called into the office and informed about the so-called rumor. But within a few minutes, Bohnert learned the mortifying truth by asking students herself.
"They go, 'Yeah, Ms. B, we've seen an upskirt photo of you. In fact, we've seen a lot of them, and they've been going around for awhile,’" she said.
Bohnert said she immediately went to police and began her own investigation, helping to uncover not just videos, but sexually violent messages and images on a social media website.
"I felt scared there's a kid walking around that really thinks that -- am I some target?" Bohnert said.
Attorney Deborah Kochan said Bohnert suffered emotional harm and claims the school failed to protect her from being sexually harassed. Kochan's lawsuit is against Serra High and the San Francisco Archdiocese.
"They have an obligation to the employees to protect them from sexual harassment. And when sexual harassment occurs they have an obligation to investigate, to figure out the scope of the problem, and take specific action designed to end it," Kochan said.
The head of Serra High School Lars Lund admitted that Bohnert's privacy was invaded.
"We own this here. This happened here. We're taking it seriously," Lund said.
He insisted the school promptly notified police after conducting its own initial investigation, which found that photos and videos had been taken of three female teachers, including Bohnert.
"They had been using their cellphones, and the teachers had no idea they're taking pictures of the teachers. They're called under-skirting pictures," he said.
San Mateo police have since turned the investigation over to prosecutors.
Not much is known about the exact legal status of the boys because they are minors.
"Videos like this stay out there on the web forever, and people victimized by videos like this and activity like this are affected for as long as these things exist on the web,” Sgt. Dave Norris said.
Lund says that school officials learned the boys were taking the videos as part of a twisted game they had been playing for up to a year and a half.
"There was some kind of competition. We don't know the details, and that makes it worse for us, because that's just horrible," he said.
Lund says the school has now been focused on implementing programs that teach students about sexual harassment, gender respect and technology. He says they will not sweep what happened under the rug.
"Some boys here did something horrible and they got what they deserved, but in the midst of all that horrible experience from last year, we're reminded what a beautiful place this is,” Lund said.
But for Bohnert, the pain of being victimized is still fresh. She's been on leave since it happened.
"It's just really hard, because every time I look at a kid and every time I see a student now walking down the halls, I think, ‘Has that kid seen my video? What photos have they seen? Could that kid describe my private area to me?’ And those thoughts go through my head, and it's traumatic," Bohnert said.
While she would like to return to Serra, Bohnert wants assurances that female teachers there will be protected. She feels a lawsuit is what it will take to make sure that happens.
"I'm a human being,” she said. “I’m not just a teacher. I'm not just someone in front of the classroom. I have feelings and I was really hurt by their actions, deeply, deeply hurt."