3 ex-students sue Clinton, NJ schools over sexual abuse
The Clinton Township School District has been hit with three lawsuits by former students who say they were sexually abused by a teacher.
As first reported by MyCentralJersey.com, the lawsuits have been filed in Superior Court in Hunterdon County accusing former Clinton Middle School and Round Valley School teacher John Gerry Sirotnak of sexual abuse during the 1960s and 1970s. The school district is faulted by the complaint for not protecting the students' right to a safe learning environment.
Each lawsuit seeks $50 million in punitive damages from the district.
New Jersey 101.5 did not know Wednesday whether Sirotnak had an attorney.
It was not clear from the lawsuits whether the alleged crimes were ever reported to police or prosecutors but some of the victims said school officials were informed of the accusations.
An unwanted first sexual experience
One of the lawsuit was filed by a 66-year-old man who now lives in Florida and accuses Sirotnak of grooming and manipulating him in the 1960s at Clinton Middle School.
According to the complaint, Sirotnak sent the student when he was 12 into a supply closet. While he was gathering up supplies, Sirotnak came up from behind and stuck his hands down the boy's pants and underwear and fondled and grabbed his penis and testicles, the lawsuit says, adding that the teacher said, “You’re such a big boy.”
The incident was the boy's first sexual experience and caused him a lifetime of "enormous shame, humiliation, embarrassment, and self-loathing, and/or was extremely confused and conflicted about his sexuality and the role of sex, love, and intimacy in his life," according to the complaint.
Sexual abuse goes public
A second student, a 61-year-old man, said Sirotnak sexually abused him in the 1970s at the Round Valley School in Lebanon Township, which was part of the Clinton district.
While the boy was working on earning merit badges towards becoming an Eagle Scout in 1974, Sirotnak kept pressuring him to try got the astronomy merit badge, which could be worked on at night, the lawsuit says, He did not take his teacher up on the offer.
According to the complaint, one day when he was the last person in the homeroom Sirotnak came up from behind and put his hands down the student's pants and grabbed his penis, the lawsuit says. The matter was reported by his father to the principal and the matter was brought up to the school board but there was no discipline, according to the lawsuit.
Other students and faculty learned of his complaint, resulting in the boy being taunted and insulted by other students. The lawsuit says another teacher scolded him for reporting the abuse.
Ultimately, the boy left the public school system and went to a private school due to the retaliatory harassment, the lawsuit says.
Mentor and friendship gone bad
A 66-year-old man who became a police officer says in his lawsuit that Sirotnak initially appeared to be a mentor and friend and was constantly complimenting him. Then came the day that Sirotnak put his hand down the boy's pants, the complaint says. This type of activity took place as many as 10 times, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit says that during the sexual assaults in school and at the teacher's Phillipsburg home, where he went for tutoring, the teacher would whisper in his ear: “Doesn’t that feel good.”
The former student said he put the school on notice in 1984 about the abuse when his 11-year-old nephew was assigned Sirotnak as a teacher. The nephew was removed from Sirotnak's classroom, the lawsuit says.