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Montclair School District Hit with Lawsuit Over Sexual Assault Allegations

— December 1, 2021

Montclair school district in New Jersey was recently hit with a lawsuit over sexual assault allegations.

Montclair school district is at the center of a lawsuit filed by a woman who claims she was “groomed and sexually assaulted by a Montclair High School math teacher in the early 2000s.” In her suit, she argues the district failed to protect her from the abuse. The suit states:

“Defendants elected to stick their head in the sand and do nothing, and as a result, exposed possibly hundreds of vulnerable students to a predator who used his position of authority as leverage over [the] plaintiff to seduce, groom, coerce and, ultimately, sexually assault her.”

Woman; image courtesy of StockSnap via Pixabay,

The suit further claims that “at no point did [the school district] take any steps to remove Smith or end his predatory behaviors upon the plaintiff and likely other students, both at Montclair High School and at other schools where he subsequently taught and had access to minor students.”

As a result of the alleged abuse, the plaintiff, referred to in the court documents as ‘Jane Doe,’ said the school district “failed in their most basic legal and moral duties to guard against a predator.”

The plaintiff joined Montclair High School in 2002. Smith was a math teacher at the time and worked for the district from 1998 to 2004. In fall 2002, the plaintiff “began to stay after class into a lunch break for extra help with her math studies.” During those breaks, Smith allegedly told her “he knew many students had a crush on him, but he was a good guy who would never do anything like that.” However, the suit alleges that Smith “began grooming ‘Jane,’ touching her leg or rubbing his leg against hers.” Eventually, he even gave her his phone number. Then, the teacher “coerced the girl into meeting him off campus.” On one occasion they met at a hotel where Smith “began kissing and groping the girl, saying they wouldn’t do anything else, and then raped her.According to the suit, he also raped the student at his house.

Many school officials allegedly knew what Smith was doing. On one occasion, “an administrator walked into an office where Smith was kissing and groping the girl, but walked out, telling Smith, ‘Make sure you keep your door open.’” The suit states:

“Despite concerns and suspicions over Smith’s conduct with the plaintiff, [the Montclair Township School District] never investigated Smith or reported him to any authorities. Instead, MTSD let Smith loose to continue working among, and possibly sexually abusing, minors in school settings…Additionally, MTSD ratified the conduct of Smith by their actions and/or inactions.”

When it comes to the law, the state of New Jersey states an “individual can be found guilty of first-degree aggravated sexual assault if a victim is less than 16 years old, and the individual has supervisory power over the victim — as a teacher does for one of his or her students.” If the victim is between 16 and 18-years-old, a second-degree sexual assault charge can apply if the perpetrator has supervisory power.

When commenting on the matter, Montclair Schools Superintendent Jonathan Ponds said “sexual assault and sexual harassment wouldn’t be tolerated in the district.” He added:

“Anyone engaging in such inappropriate, and potentially criminal acts, will be referred to law enforcement…The district maintains a number of school policies and regulations prohibiting such conduct and providing for an investigatory process through the affirmative action officer. However, students, parents, and staff with any concerns of this nature should immediately contact my office for assistance and support.”

It’s important to note, however, that Ponds just became superintendent in 2020, so he wasn’t working in the district during the time that the alleged incidents occurred.

Unfortunately for the school district, this isn’t the first time it has been hit with lawsuits involving allegations of sexual abuse. Back in 2019, two female security guards filed a lawsuit over sexual harassment claims. 




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