"Former Santa Cruz principal eludes prosecution despite allegations of molestation"
Santa Cruz Sentinel - Michael Todd - May 19,2018
SANTA CRUZ >> A 1990s confession to Santa Cruz police of sexual misconduct with a teenage student did not restrict a former city schools principal and Traveling School founder’s teaching career in the decades since.
As recently as July, Stephen Howard Myers, 72, has taught in schools around the world — decades after Santa Cruz police probed statements that he molested a 4-year-old boy he was trying to adopt, groped boys on overseas trips, and confessed he touched a child’s genitals in 1980 and masturbated with a student in South Africa in 1991 before therapy “cured” his attraction to children.
His accusers and former colleagues question whether more could have been done by Santa Cruz police and school officials in the 1990s.
Questions also were raised about the vetting process for educators, such as Myers, who resigned as a Massachusetts school principal in 2002 amid accusations he made inappropriate comments to a male student. Myers went on to teach 15 more years, including jobs in Colorado and England.
A prosecutor who worked an early case against Myers said charges could not be brought in Santa Cruz County for actions that happened elsewhere.
Myers, reached by email in January by the Sentinel, declined to respond on the record about the allegations. Myers lives in Denver, Colorado.
Myers grew up in Denver and arrived in Santa Cruz in the 1980s, serving as principal at Branciforte Junior High and assistant principal at Soquel High. He founded Traveling School as a Santa Cruz City Schools summer program that later opened as a private institution in 1990, continuing until 1999 under that name and “Global Youth Academy.”
The program brought students on trips throughout the world. The concept was to teach global citizenship while recruiting foreign students “en-route” through Global Youth Academy, Myers wrote in the journal Educational Leadership: The New Alternative Schools in September 1994. The academy, which for a time had an office on Pacific Avenue and on Cayuga Street in Santa Cruz, sent seventh- to 12th-graders on trips with Myers up to 10 weeks per semester.
Myers first faced scrutiny by authorities in Santa Cruz in 1994 — two years after the academy’s debut.
Police investigated concerns that Myers spent an abnormal amount of private time with a Global Youth Academy seventh-grader and wrestled the child on a trip to the Pacific Northwest that year. A parent also complained the students on “Body Awareness Day” stripped to their underwear, stood in front of the class and were photographed.
In 1996, Santa Cruz authorities investigated whether Myers molested the 4-year-old boy he was trying to adopt, and a boy in Colorado, the Cook Islands and South Africa, detective Loran Baker wrote in police reports.
Myers told police four years of therapy “cured” his attraction to 14- to 16-year-old boys, Baker wrote.
Myers also admitted his hand touched the genitals of boy, a family friend, while camping in Colorado possibly in 1980, Baker wrote.
“Myers said, ‘My hand touched his penis. We were both fully clothed. I don’t think it was a conscious act and I wasn’t fully awake,’” Baker wrote. Myers later apologized and was surprised it was being reported to police, Baker wrote.
When police asked about any other sexual interactions with children, Myers said he had masturbated a 15- or 16-year-old Traveling School student on a trip to South Africa in 1991. During the trip, Myers said he had food poisoning and was in his room, when the teenager came in to check on him and the two began to massage one another, Baker wrote. It lasted about 30 minutes. Myers told police he believed both had reached climax, Baker wrote.
The investigation concluded there was evidence supporting the notion Myers molested two children, whose names are omitted, in other jurisdictions. One of the children, Myers’ former student, was molested in South Africa, Baker wrote.
None of the accusations resulted in criminal charges.
A former Santa Cruz County prosecutor said the 4-year-old boy was too young to be qualified as an official witness in the case, which at that time would be “chargeable for six years” after the alleged misconduct.
Jon Hopkins, who was chief deputy district attorney in 1996, said he tried to have the case opened after it was suspended in December that year. He said investigators were unable to interview the 4-year-old boy again to attempt to have the child qualified as a witness. Hopkins said the boy’s new adopted family told him about plans to leave the area, but the mother of the now-adult child told the Sentinel this was not a problem.
“You have to know you can qualify them. You spend time with them. You’re checking them to see if there is some influence from someone else,” Hopkins told the Sentinel. He said the witness must understand a reasonable time frame and understand the difference between telling the truth and otherwise.
Hopkins, who worked at the District Attorney’s Office 1979 to 1998, said he specialized in sexual assaults. In those cases, the victim must take the stand, he said.
“There’s no other way,” Hopkins said.
The 1996 case also had problems with jurisdiction, Hopkins said.
“I remember having this feeling like, ‘Damn. None of this happened in Santa Cruz County,” Hopkins said. “We were a pretty aggressive sexual assault program. But we had no proof of a crime in Santa Cruz County.”
Hopkins said there were fears that the allegations were reporting behavior that “wasn’t going to stop.”
Former student and Traveling School board member Jeff Album said he chose to resign in the 1990s amid a flurry of allegations about escalating “inappropriate levels of closeness” between Myers and at-risk students on school trips. In 1996, the board hired San Diego attorney Janet Mueller, who produced a memo of reported inappropriate behaviors: sleeping in the bed with students who also were being restrained, tickled and massaged by Myers. The claims were reported to the local District Attorney for investigation.
“We were not able to uncover direct evidence,” said former board member Jon Kennedy of Soquel.
The board of directors voted to prohibit Myers from having any contact with students, Kennedy said. Myers, as executive director, had three votes that over-ruled the board’s decision. In response, the entire board resigned. The school folded at the end of the 1998-99 school year.
“I find it interesting that, with all the baggage, Steve still finds schools that will employ him,” Kennedy said. “I would agree that one would wish that there was a more thorough screening process taken, particularly when someone is going to be in position of control of a school.”
Album said he is astonished Myers went on to earn teaching jobs in Colorado, Massachusetts and England.
“This guy just moves and gets another job somewhere,” Album said. “That’s been very frustrating for us that every time a school district recognized that there was smoke, and where there was smoke, there was fire, it would be in their interest to fire Steve, they sent him along with singing references.”
Album raised concerns about background checks for hiring teachers.
“At least ask about it in the job interview. ‘Mr. Myers, I see you are accused of inappropriate touching your foster child in Santa Cruz.’ Why didn’t that come up at the 10 or 15 schools since Santa Cruz?” Album asked.
In 2002, Myers resigned as principal of Amherst Regional High School in Massachusetts after being accused of asking a male teen to bare his breast. At that time, Myers’ lawyer said the comment was misinterpreted and Myers resigned because the school district mishandled the situation. Nearly 600 students signed a petition in support of Myers, the lawyer told the Sentinel.
Myers was fired from an Essex, England, secondary school in September after the school received information about the police investigations in Santa Cruz, The Guardian reported.
A Los Angeles television producer and cousin of Myers, Jodi Binstock, said she sought legal custody of the boy Myers tried to adopt, but she was unable to do so.
The child was removed from Myers’ custody and placed with a Watsonville foster family in April 1996, according to police reports that year.
Binstock said she had concerns about Myers’ relationship with the young child. She said she knew about Myers’ attraction and she worried about the child’s future.
She said she should have reported Myers early on.
“I didn’t want to get involved in any of this,” Binstock said. “My mother was a social worker and a real child’s advocate and she was always very strong in saying, ‘Believe the children.’”
Myers’ family became divided by the allegations against him.
“I feel like, had I done more years ago, maybe these boys would not have their lives ruined,” Binstock said.