NorthJersey.com [Woodland Park NJ]
April 5, 2021
By Tom Nobile
Lawsuits are piling up against the Waldwick school district by former students who say a high school teacher sexually abused them in the 1980s.
Three men have come forward since November to accuse Michael Healy, a former substitute teacher and lunchroom monitor, of molesting them in bathrooms and hallways and on class trips. The abuse occurred under the nose of other school employees, the suits contend.
The three lawsuits — the latest one filed last week in state Superior Court — place the district in an increasingly precarious legal situation, with an attorney for the three plaintiffs predicting that more alleged victims are likely to come forward.
“My clients see these lawsuits as an opportunity to right some past wrongs,” said Madeleine Skaller, their attorney. “The abuse they endured had a very serious impact on the way that they’ve been able to live their lives.”
Efforts to reach Healy, who isn’t named as a defendant in the suits, were unsuccessful last week. The school district denied any wrongdoing in a court filing last month, but school officials have not responded to messages seeking comment.
Healy worked in recent years as an assistant principal in Maplewood. Whether he is still employed there is unclear: The Maplewood district also did not respond to requests for comment. But a report published by The Village Green, an online news site, said Healy retired in July from the South Orange-Maplewood district.
The allegations in the three suits follow a similar pattern, claiming abuse throughout the ’80s. Healy told one boy that he “had a nice body and that he was very fit,” according to the former student’s complaint. Healy allegedly stalked the victim around the school, following him into bathrooms and touching him inappropriately.
The final straw allegedly came when Healy drove the student home from school one day. While in the car, Healy grabbed the boy inappropriately, but the student responded by punching him in the face, according to the suit. The groping stopped after that, the boy says.
In the suit filed last week, another former student says Healy cornered him in the boys’ bathroom sometime during 1987 and tried to grope him while using the urinal.
School officials “knew or should have known” about the encounters and “took no steps to prevent or stop Healy’s sexual abuse,” the suit says.
Though the alleged incidents occurred decades ago, the lawsuits were allowed under a recent New Jersey law that relaxed the statute of limitations for reporting sexual abuse against minors. Whereas the state previously imposed a two-year limit on claims, alleged victims can now sue until they turn 55 or within seven years of their realization that the abuse caused them harm.
The law took effect in 2019 and has spurred hundreds of new suits against local churches, schools and other institutions.
Skaller said the first former student came forward after learning about the new statute. He wrote Facebook posts about his experiences, and they later reached the other two plaintiffs, she said.
“He has this awful feeling that there are so many people,” Skaller said, in part because some of the alleged abuse occurred in plain sight of other students. “He’s hard pressed to believe it’s only the three of them.”
The lawsuits seek unspecified damages from the school district, saying it wasnegligent in hiring Healy and violated the state’s Child Sexual Abuse Act.
Tom Nobile covers Superior Court in Bergen County for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from criminal trials to local lawsuits and insightful analysis, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.