Claim filed against Office of Education in alleged molestation at science camp

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU and wires) -- A claim was filed Thursday against the Santa Clara County Office of Education alleging it hired a person who molested a 10-year-old boy at a science camp earlier this year.

The claim filed by Alexander Law Group on behalf of the boy and his parents against the county Office of Education and board of education alleges that 27-year-old Edgar Covarrubias molested the boy while he stayed at Walden West, a weeklong outdoor science summer camp run by the office for fifth and sixth grade students.

The boy was a fifth grade student in the Evergreen School District when he attended the camp's site near Saratoga from Jan. 27 through Jan. 30, according to the claim.

He had wanted to go home before the program was completed, but was not allowed to call his mother, who was told he could call her any time to be taken home, according to the claim.

The boy's parents were suspicious that their son was abused after he returned from the camp because he acted differently, the claim states.

He had previously enjoyed going to sleepovers but after returning from Walden West, he only wanted to sleep at his own home, according to the claim.

The boy "is scared, anxious and sullen, much different from his previous robust 10 year-old style," the claim states

"The claim alleges that the county was reckless in failing to protect the children under its care at the Walden West science camp from a pedophile," attorney Nina Shapirshteyn said.

Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies received a tip from Department of Homeland Security investigators that Covarrubias was part of a group downloading and distributing child pornography internationally, sheriff's Sgt. James Jensen.

Covarrubias was arrested on May 7 at the Saratoga camp where he was residing and investigators found child pornography on his phone and computer, sheriff's Sgt. James Jensen.

He was arraigned on felony charges of child molestation and possessing and distributing child pornography last week, according to Deputy District Attorney David Shabaglian said.

On Wednesday, Covarrubias was additionally charged with manufacturing child pornography and his bail was raised to $200,000, according to Shabaglian.

Covarrubias, who no longer works at the camp, served intermittently as a volunteer since 2011 and was hired in August 2013, serving in multiple positions that included interaction with children, according to county education officials.

Each staff member at the camp has a nickname relating to the program's environmental theme. Students knew Covarrubias as "Papa Bear," and he was a night monitor at the Cupertino location when arrested, county education officials said.

"The children felt or were encouraged to go see him when they were sick or homesick, which usually happens at night," Shapirshteyn said.

The law group knows of a second victim who also attended Walden West but a claim has yet to be filed in that case, she said.

The second victim attended the camp at a different time than the 10-year-old boy, Shapirshteyn said.

"There were over 150 students staying at that camp every single week so there is potentially hundreds of victims. Historically what we find out in these cases is that there is more than one victim," she said.

She said that many children don't tell their parents if they are victims of sexual abuse, but parents should try to look for signs, ask questions and seek professional help if they suspect otherwise.

The parents are seeking damages for the psychological, psychiatric and other mental health needs required for the boy, according to the claim.

"Claims against a public entity have to be made within six months and a lawsuit must be filed within a year of the discovery of the abuse," Shapirshteyn said.

The county has 45 days from Thursday to either accept or reject the claim, she said.

The Office of Education spokesman Ken Blackstone said the office has received the claim but could not comment on pending litigation.