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Former OCSA student claims she was sexually abused by school founder – Orange County Register

A former student at the Orange County School of the Arts said that the school’s founder, Ralph S. Opacic, sexually assaulted her on campus during the 2003-2004 school year, according to a lawsuit filed this week.
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The lawsuit filed in Orange County Supreme Court on Thursday, September 22, against the prominent educator and the Santa Ana Unified School District alleges that a “toxic” campus culture has allowed Opacic to “hunt” vulnerable students. The case is a campus one that fosters “a cult-like mindset that idolizes Opacic and his vision” among faculty and administrators.

Opacic, who was the school’s founder and general manager until his retirement in the spring, could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.

Santa Ana Unified spokesperson Fermin Leal declined to comment on Thursday and directed all questions to the school.

“The Orange County School of the Arts (OCSA) has just been notified of the allegations against Dr. Ralph Opacic, and the school has not commented at this time,” OCSA spokeswoman Julia Gutierrez said in an email.

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Orange County School of the Arts, 7-12. It is a highly respected public charter that offers approximately 2,300 students in classrooms the opportunity to study academics along with a variety of arts, including music, theater and dance, culinary studies, writing and digital media.

The plaintiff, who now works as an actor, joined the school in 2000 when the contract began to lay its new foundations in Santa Ana after leaving the Los Alamitos Unified School District.

Opacic, a choir teacher at Los Alamitos High School in the early ’80s, transformed what is now known as OCSA from an after-school program to a full-fledged school. As Opacic and others describe in their 2010 YouTube video and 2012 Register story, it took a little moxie, local influencers, lots of donations, and a high-profile developer in Santa Ana to get it all together and done quickly.

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In the case and in an interview earlier this week, the man, now 35, described a campus where he understood that everyone, including the students, the school needs donors to survive and thrive. The lawsuit claims that “the most important principle the school emphasizes is the need to protect the school and Opacic’s OCSA vision.”

The lawsuit claims that “This idolization of Opacic has become so omnipotent that teachers, faculty, and administration ignored it even as rumors began to circulate that Opacic had sexual relations with students.”

In an interview, the former student said that he was part of the school’s freshman year in Santa Ana. She chose OCSA to avoid bullying at another public school, and when she started OCSA she found success in the performing arts and said the school felt like “home.”

But the lawsuit claims that Opacic selected her for “sexual care” when she was 17, with emails that were “teasing” in her first year but later contained a “more romantic tone.”

“I felt special back then,” the former student said emotionally during a Zoom call. “I felt like someone was seeing me. And that’s hard. Maybe I felt that this person really cared about me in a way that I was so eager to feel as a young queer person at the time.”

Later, Opacic began sending her “obscene and inappropriate emails,” according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit alleges that after “weeks of sexually grooming” the student, Opacic took her out of history class and met with her in her 7th-floor office.

According to the lawsuit, Opacic closed the door behind the student and “started small talk”.

“During the brief conversation, Opacic fidgeted and continued to stare at the closed door. Opacic later sexually assaulted the Plaintiff. Plaintiff left Opacic’s office shortly after,” the lawsuit states.

In the lawsuit, Opacic invited the student to meet him at a California Pizza Kitchen in Tustin Market Place, after several weeks of no contact, where he asked the student “not to tell anyone about the sexual assault.”

Santa Ana Unified School District knew or should have known, or otherwise reported, that “Opacic violated his role as administrator and was using his position of authority and trust acting on behalf of SAUSD to provide access to children, including Plaintiff. On and off SAUSD facilities and lands that Opacic used to inappropriately touch, harass, harass and attack the Claimant,” the lawsuit states.

According to the lawsuit, the district failed to “take reasonable steps or implement reasonable measures” and to enact or provide “adequate policies and procedures” to protect the student and other children.

Attorney Brian Williams, partner at Costa Mesa-based Greenberg Gross, said in the complaint that although the public charter is no longer under the umbrella of the Santa Ana Unified School District, the district’s name was given because it fell under its jurisdiction at the time. LLP firm representing ex-student.

In 2020, the school severed ties with the district, despite Santa Ana Unified’s wishes, and asked the Orange County Board of Education to bring the school under its umbrella instead. The board granted the independent charter school a five-year renewal right under the Orange County Department of Education.

Alleging neglect, sexual harassment and sexual assault, the lawsuit seeks indefinite compensation.

The lawsuit does not date or give any other details about when the alleged attack took place. The former student said in an interview that he trusted his best friend when he was in his senior year of high school. Attorney Williams said this friend was willing to substantiate his claim during a trial.

The lawsuit repeatedly refers to Opacic’s allegation of misconduct involving underage students, but has not offered another name or specific incident. There are no other sexual misconduct lawsuits filed against Opacic or the school in Orange County Supreme Court.

Under a law signed by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2019, the statute of limitations has been extended for victims of childhood abuse. It established a three-year window for survivors to file legal claims against alleged abusers, regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred.

The former student said he was impressed by the Me Too movement to stand out.

“It took me a long time to figure out exactly what happened,” he told the Register. “I have a niece and nephew now too. I look after them and just want to protect them.

“For a long time I thought I had done something wrong and thought I deserved what happened to me. I carried it in many different ways for quite some time,” he continued. “And as a queer guy, I feel like it’s happening more often.”

Originally called Orange County High School for the Arts, the Orange County School of the Arts has received numerous accolades over the decades. Educators and others praised Opacic’s leadership in 34 years of school management.

Announcing his retirement earlier this year, Opacic said: “It has truly been the greatest honor and privilege of my professional career to lead this organization.”

OCSA expanded in 2017 with a campus in the San Gabriel Valley. Both campuses host special events and performances throughout the school year that showcase their students’ talents.

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Staff writer Sean Emery contributed to this report.

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