Valley Home school administrator arrested on suspicion of child molestation

Thomas Kevin Hart, arrested July 6, 2011, by Oakdale Police Dept.
Thomas Kevin Hart, arrested July 6, 2011, by Oakdale Police Dept. (Stanislaus County Sheriff's Dept)

The superintendent-principal of Valley Home Joint School District has been placed on paid leave after his arrest on suspicion of child molestation.

Oakdale police arrested Thomas Kevin Hart — who is known as Kevin Hart — July 6 for investigation of continuous sexual abuse of a child, and lewd and lascivious acts with a child younger than 14, according to the Stanislaus County district attorney's office. Charges have not been filed against him.

Valley Home trustees voted 5-0 on Tuesday to place Hart on paid leave at a special board meeting attended by more than two dozen parents. Hart was not at the meeting.

Before the trustees met in closed session to vote, several parents urged them to put Hart on leave until the accusations against him are resolved.

One veteran teacher asked the media and public not to try Hart in the court of public opinion.

"I feel so confident about Mr. Hart. These allegations will be proved false," said third-grade teacher Sandra Moore, who is starting her 12th year with the district.

Classes are set to resume Aug. 10 in the kindergarten to eighth-grade district, which has about 170 students at two campuses several miles northwest of Oakdale.

Hart, 59, has posted bail and is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 5.

It's not clear when school trustees learned of Hart's arrest. He read a statement to the school board at last week's meeting, but board President Don Smith said Tuesday that Hart did not mention his arrest.

Hart's salary is $94,760, according to documents at the Stanislaus County Office of Education.

Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley said her office is waiting for all of the reports from the Oakdale Police Department to complete its review and decide whether to prosecute Hart.

Shipley said she would not release victim information while the case is under review.

Public records show Hart is an Oakdale resident, but he listed his parents' San Francisco address on jail booking documents as his residence.

Hart could not be reached for comment, and his attorney has declined to comment.

Hart's mother, Gloria Hart, said her son has been Valley Home's superintendent-principal for several years.

Gloria Hart said the allegations are "hogwash" and blamed them on a "messy divorce."

Court records show Hart has filed for divorce from his wife, Sandy, and for restraining orders against her and her mother, Imogene Ellwanger.

The court file was not available for Sandy Hart, but in the file seeking a restraining order against Ellwanger, Hart wrote his mother-in-law had threatened to ruin his career if he crossed her.

Ellwanger did not return a phone call. Sandy Hart also has not returned phone calls.

On the Valley Home district Web site, Hart said he was a public school music teacher in the Bay Area for a dozen years before taking his first administrative position as vice principal at Prescott Senior Elementary School in Modesto.

Hart also was principal at Avery Middle School in Cal-averas County and superintendent-principal at Belleview Elementary School in Sonora before coming to Valley Home, according to the Web site.

Bee assistant librarians Katie Sizemore and Karen Aiello contributed to this report.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.