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Rumors abound at Hamilton High after teacher accused of sexual abuse removed

Hamilton High School, aerial

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Hamilton High from above.

Kevin Cuevas, 21, is a junior at Santa Monica College studying engineering, but during 2005 to 2009 he was an orchestra student playing viola for Vance Miller, the Hamilton High music magnet teacher accused of sexually abusing students from the mid-1990s through 2010.

Cuevas heard of the allegations in the fall of 2010 from other orchestra students who were wondering why their respected and popular music teacher had not come to class. LAUSD had removed Miller from the classroom in September, according to district documents, but parents and students were not informed as to why. Rumors ran rampant.

"It was, 'oh, Mr. Miller, he messed around with a student, or one of the students accused him of something,'" Cuevas said. "It was always vague, and I think that's how it caught fire, everybody just started spreading that."

The two had grown close since they met when Cuevas was a student at Palms Middle School and was auditioning for the honors orchestra. Miller told Cuevas he showed promise and counseled him to go to Hamilton.

Miller was never inappropriate, said Cuevas, though he would often greet students with kisses on the cheek once they graduated. As a high school student, Cuevas said Miller was very close to older students who were seniors and would often have former students visit him.

"I did notice that with the older students he was a little more close, he saw them as friends," Cuevas explained. "This was someone that was well respected. He would get them jobs playing."

Cuevas has had two paid opportunities playing viola for "Glee" and also was paid to play at Miller's church this past Christmas thanks to the teacher. The two had spoken by phone back in April or May of last year, after the teacher had contacted Cuevas to see if he wanted to play in an alumni concert at Hamilton.

"I asked him how he was, what he was doing," Cuevas said. "He told me he was at [Daniel] Webster Middle School and had to be in this room, and had to spend his entire shift in this room" with other teachers.

At the Christmas concert, Miller wanted to sit and chat with Cuevas in between conducting pieces. "I jokingly said, 'aren't you tired of sitting?' He just started laughing," Cuevas noted.

"I honestly don't think [the allegations] could be true," Cuevas said. "I can understand how someone could have misinterpreted his friendliness. I've always felt like he trusted his students too much, where Mr. Miller feels too comfortable around his students... and it definitely backslided on him."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

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