Is NJ school district ‘victim shaming’? Lawyer calls sex predator claims ‘preposterous’
PENNINGTON — A teacher accused in a lawsuit of being a sexual predator faces new allegations from a former student who says she was lured and drugged in a 2016 sex assault.
Despite the accusations, Mark Amantia has never been charged with a crime and an attorney for the teacher and school district has called the young woman's accusations "unfounded."
The woman's attorney, however, says another former student has now voiced support for concerns regarding Amantia.
Amantia has denied all allegations made by Sara Stillitano, now 19, who three years ago said she fended off a classroom sex assault by her middle school history teacher in 2017.
Stillitano said she stabbed him with a pencil in order to get away as he exposed himself to her and pushed her against a wall.
Amantia, in a legal certification filed in the lawsuit, said the allegation "was preposterous when it was first made, it was preposterous when a different version of it was articulated a year later and it remains preposterous now that it has been repeated in a civil lawsuit — all three versions differing.”
Amantia calls the new allegations — involving luring, drugging and arranging an off-site sex assault by a third party — "also preposterous."
Stillitano has leveled new allegations in a lawsuit filed on May 9, saying that in 2016, Amantia lured her into his car, gave her drug-laced water and then facilitated her sexual assault by another man in a row-house in Trenton.
In an interview with NJ.com, Stillitano said she had repressed the memory of the assault in Trenton and only through therapy was able to piece it together.
There has been a swell of support among the community, according to Stillitano’s attorney, Brian Schiller, including details now shared by another former student of Timberlane Middle School, who had Amantia as a teacher from 2001-2002.
“He was inappropriately touching female students even back then," the unnamed former student wrote in an email to Schiller and the current schools Superintendent of Hopewell Valley Regional.
"During my eighth grade year at Timberlane he would massage my neck and shoulders during class, a routine he did with several other female students as well. During class as he was walking around the classroom teaching he would stand behind a female student, place both hands on either side of our shoulders and begin rubbing our necks, shoulders and sometimes even back."
"He would stand in the door frame of the class from time to time forcing a physical contact as we would head into the classroom. So many red flags went off about this man when I was younger but at the time I was too young to understand why," the student wrote.
After allegations were first filed in a January 2019 lawsuit, Timberlane Middle School reported it to the Hopewell Township Police Department and Amantia was placed on administrative leave. Amantia was never criminally charged.
He has not worked in a classroom since then but currently is a technology trainer with the district.
“HVRSD did not reassign Mark to an administrative position because it believed that Ms. Stillitano’s claims had any validity,” attorney Eric Harrison said in a written response to New Jersey 101.5. "Mark was reassigned because Ms. Stillitano’s allegations, compounded by her attorney’s threats and publicized statements to the press, created such hysteria in the HVRSD community that the administration decided that returning him to the classroom would create a distraction likely to have an adverse impact on HVRSD students."
History of complaints
Schiller said the "district knew that Amantia was a danger to young girls since at least 2005 when the mother of an 11-year-old student reported his inappropriate sexual behavior/touching of another child to the principal.
He said that the district’s claim that those allegations did not involve “physical touching or any other improper behavior” is a lie.
“They protected Amantia then, and they have continued to protect him now,” Schiller said.
“Rather than apologize for what happened to Sara, the district has resorted to victim shaming. This type of tactic is disgraceful, and it will not be tolerated,” Schiller said in a written statement sent to New Jersey 101.5.
According to her lawsuit, Stillitano and a female classmate first reported concerns to a school guidance counselor, saying that Amantia had given them unwanted massages at lunch and in his classroom in front of other students, teachers and lunch aides.
She also said that Amantia would “hip check” her when she entered his classroom and stand uncomfortably close while in class.
Stillitano said she reported such concerns three times before Thanksgiving break 2016.
The school district disputes that — saying that Stillitano made just two reports about Amantia in February and March 2017.
“This phrase – 'he is just friendly' has been repeated to young teenage girls in distress by the District when they have reported concerns about Amantia,” Schiller said.
“When we send our children to school, we expect the adults who work there to look after them and to protect them. Unfortunately, that did not happen in this case, and a young girl had her innocence stolen from her,” he said.
On Monday, the attorney for Amantia and the Hopewell Valley Regional School District filed a motion to quash the subpoenas filed by Schiller, for past law enforcement investigative files involving Amantia.
Stillitano's attorney had requested those complete files from police — which Amantia said would enable Stillitano to reconcile inconsistencies to provide anything but the "unvarnished truth," as she recalls it.
The previous allegations against Armantia prompted a public show of support by a number of community members who voiced concerns at a November 2019 Board of Education meeting.