School districts face sex abuse claims under Child Victims Act

By Rachel Silberstein
Times Union
August 19, 2019

Survivor Jeanne Marron hugs attorney Jeff Anderson next to board of perpetrators in the Diocese of Albany during a press conference where Anderson announced 20 lawsuits filed against the Albany Diocese on the first day the Child Victims Act at the Hilton Albany on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 in Albany, N.Y. The act allows a one-year period for ...

Survivor Mark Lyman speaks during a press conference where Attorney Jeff Anderson announced 20 lawsuits filed against the Albany Diocese on the first day the Child Victims Act at the Hilton Albany on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 in Albany, N.Y. S The act allows a one-year period for claims to be filed regardless of the age of the plaintiff. (Lori ...

Attorney Jeff Anderson, center, announces 20 lawsuits filed against the Albany Diocese on the first day the Child Victims Act at the Hilton Albany on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 in Albany, N.Y. Survivor Jeanne Marron, left, attorney Cynthia LaFave, second from left, and survivors Bridie Farrell and Mark Lyman stand at right. The act allows a ...

Attorney Jeff Anderson of Jeff Anderson & Associates, points to a page of accused clerics from the Diocese of Albany on Tuesday, May 21, 2019, during a press conference in Albany, N.Y. The law firm plans to represent plaintiffs once the state's Child Victims Act goes into effect in August.
Photo by Will Waldron

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, signs the Child Victims Act in New York, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019. Cuomo has signed into law long-sought legislation that extends the statute of limitations so sexual abuse victims can have more time to seek criminal charges or file lawsuits.

Governor Andrew Cuomo addresses those gathered for a press conference to mark the impending passage of the Child Victims Act on Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Albany, N.Y.
Photo by Paul Buckowski

A female gym teacher who allegedly groomed and sexually abused a 13-year-old girl at a western New York middle school in the 1970s gained access to the pupil by visiting her home to offer comfort when the girl's mother died.

A former science teacher at Buffalo Public Schools is accused of harassing, exposing, and molesting a male student approximately five days a week over the course of two years in the 1980s when the teen was 14 and 15. He was placed in the alleged pedophile's care for study hall, class, tutoring, after-school activities, and summer school, according to court documents.

A former coach at a suburban Monroe County school is accused of grooming a male student for sex on school grounds starting when the boy was 8 years old in the 1960s and abusing him well into his teens.

These are a few of the startling accounts contained in lawsuits targeting public school districts filed on Aug. 14 as the Child Victims Act's one-year retroactive window to file old child sex abuse claims went into effect in New York state.

The legislation, signed into law in February, expanded the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases, raising the cap for bringing civil claim from age 23 to 55. A temporary "look-back" window also allows people to bring past claims regardless of when the abuse occurred.

The bill also removed an onerous requirement that has long shielded school districts and other governmental agencies from litigation over sexual abuse — that to sue a public agency, victims typically had to file a "notice of claim" within 90 days of the incident.

Of 427 sex abuse cases filed across the state last week, the majority involve allegations of abuse by clergy or religious leaders. In the Capital Region, 30 of 31 claims filed on Aug. 14 under the Child Victims Act named Albany's Roman Catholic Diocese as a defendant. One other local suit names the Boy Scouts of America. No lawsuits in the Capital Region filed last week targeted public schools or other institutions.

Over the last decade, the Catholic Church's lobbying arm spent millions lobbying against the Child Victims Act, but it also pushed for language clarifying that public agencies would be similarly liable for abuses.

Suits involving the Catholic Church are aided by records that have shown leaders were aware of predatory priests, but systematically covered up abuse and allowed them continued access to children. Demonstrating that school districts knew of or should have been aware of the abuse is more complicated, attorneys say.

"Unlike the Catholic Church, where there is already known information about who knew what when, we are doing our background work on the public school cases," said attorney Jeff Herman, whose firm represents clients across the state who were abused in both public and private institutions. "There are (public school) cases with notice, but we are proving it a little differently."

In some cases, attorneys may track down witnesses would knew of of the alleged perpetrator's reputation.

For example, a suit filed last week suggests that Barry Alyn, a former chorus teacher at a Nassau County middle school, was a known sexual predator in the community and that his sexual abuse of students was "open and obvious" to students, staff, teachers and administrators.

Yet the lawsuit alleges that the school did nothing to protect the plaintiff as a seventh grade student from repeated rape and forced oral sex alleged to have occurred on school grounds and during ski trips in the 1980s. It was "common knowledge" that the pupil who sat in the front seat on those bus trips would be the subject of his molestation, the suit claims.

Alyn is currently serving 30 years in prison in Florida for raping 13-year-old boy in 2002. He had met the boy while working as a substitute teacher at a Broward County middle school.

In two cases filed last week against the New York City Department of Education, the alleged abuses were confirmed in a series of sting operations conducted by the city's then-Special Commissioner of Investigation Edward Stancik, who sent the victims to confront their abusers while wearing a recording device.

The findings were included in a bombshell 2001 report by Stancik's office that substantiated 117 claims of sex abuse in city schools.

"It has reached critical mass," Stancik told the New York Post at the time. "I think it's very hard for anybody to deny that we have a real problem."

Due to statutes of limitations, the perpetrators faced no criminal or civil consequences.

The report noted that problem teachers were frequently transferred to other schools – a practice known as "passing the garbage." In about 16 percent of cases, administrators tried to cover up the offense or delayed reporting it, the report found.

The city's current special commissioner of investigation received 622 complaints that included a sexual component in 2016; it opened 218 investigations involving those allegations, and made substantiated findings in 16 percent of those cases, according to the office's most recent schools report.

"Every survivor deserves to be heard, and we have clear policies to ensure any allegation is immediately reported, investigated, and addressed," a spokeswoman for the city Education Department said in a statement.


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