A former student is suing Francis Parker and three of its employees. The student said a teacher and basketball coach groomed and sexually molested her, and the school failed to protect her.
“So much of my life has been spent at Parker, this decision to speak out has not been easy,” said Grace Winn, 19, who chose to file the suit under her own name rather than Jane Doe.
Winn was a student at Parker from Kindergarten through 12 grade. In the 8th grade she says her teacher and basketball coach, then 28-year-old Miguel Cembrano, took advantage of her at a vulnerable time in her life.
“I was 13 years old, I was molested, and I was abused, and I felt there was no safe place at Francis Parker,” said Winn at a news conference at her attorney’s office Friday.
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According to the lawsuit, “On one occasion, while helping her with homework in a classroom with the blinds down and doors shut…Cembrano began running his hand up and down her thigh...The plaintiff felt trapped and frightened… He asked her if she knew what it was like to have sex.”
Parker fired Cembrano in 2015, amid rumors of inappropriate behavior and the general reputation of Cembrano in his employment at the school, according to attorney Jessica Pride, who said Cembrano went on to teach at High Tech High in Point Loma. Pride said Parker never reported the reason for the firing to police or Child Protective Services, as mandated to do; and failed to notify parents.
“They knew something went awry at that point and they didn’t do their job,” Pride said at the news conference.
According to the lawsuit, while at High Tech High, Cembrano continued to contact Winn sending her messages about taking her on a date, and eventually marrying her. According to the lawsuit, he used Snapchat to obtain naked photos of her, and he sent her shirtless photos of himself.
Pride says in 2016 Cembrano was under investigation for suspected child abuse at High Tech High, but before he could be questioned, he killed himself.
“Before he committed suicide,” Pride said. “He sent Grace a text message and said, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ It’s an admission of guilt.”
Grace has this message for others who may be victims: Come forward.
“You are not alone, you no longer have to be quiet, you no longer have to suffer in silence. I’m here to stand with you. I’m here to see change.”
Francis Parker said no one was available to go on camera Friday, but the school sent the following statement:
“Our school’s values are founded on putting students first and providing an environment for learning where students are safe both physically and emotionally."
Parker’s attorney David Molinari sent the following statement in an email:
"Francis Parker denies the allegations contained in the lawsuit; and at this point in the process it is important to realize that is all we have, “allegations.” We will put our faith in the judicial system and judicial process as opposed to litigating on social media or outside the legal system. Francis Parker School takes all alleged incidents very seriously.”
NBC 7 did not hear back from High Tech High about whether Cembrano was being investigated for the alleged abuse before his suicide.