Parents sue Niskayuna High following sexual assault

PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC SCHULTZ
Two Niskayuna High School parents are suing the district, contending it could have taken steps to prevent their daughter from being sexually assaulted at the school last year but didn’t.PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC SCHULTZ Two Niskayuna High School parents are suing the district, contending it could have taken steps to prevent their daughter from being sexually assaulted at the school last year but didn’t.

— Two Niskayuna High School parents are suing the district, contending it could have taken steps to prevent their daughter from being sexually assaulted at the school last year but didn’t.

The parents contend a fellow student sexually assaulted their daughter in a classroom June 15, 2015 — three months after the district learned of similar off-campus allegations made against the student by another girl, the lawsuit reads.

The parents filed the lawsuit in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County earlier this month against the Niskayuna Central School District, high school and board of education, seeking damages.

The family is represented by attorney George LaMarche, who emphasized Wednesday the prior allegations against the student and what he called the district’s lack of response.

“It all starts with the fact that this individual had a history – a known history – by the teachers in the school district of these types of behaviors, yet the school failed to act on it,” LaMarche said. “The school failed to prevent another student from being abused by this kid in a very serious way.”

The district issued a statement Wednesday saying it is aware of the lawsuit and it has been referred to legal counsel.

“The district does not discuss the specifics of litigation involving students and is therefore unable to comment,” the statement reads.

The lawsuit doesn’t address the criminal investigation into the June 2015 incident, but Niskayuna police Wednesday confirmed they investigated and charged a boy in juvenile court as a result with misdemeanor forcible touching.

The incident involving LaMarche’s client happened at around 7:30 a.m., June 15, 2015, after the girl was dropped off for a final exam.

With no designated areas for students to wait for the exam, the girl walked around with the suspect student and then entered a classroom. They encountered no adults supervising the hallways or classrooms, the suit reads.

Once alone in the classroom, the suspect student then grabbed the girl and sexually assaulted her, including pulling down her pants, attempting to force his hand up her shirt, exposing himself and trying to make her perform a sex act.

LaMarche said she eventually broke free and fled.

The prior allegation consisted of the suspect grabbing another girl at a shop near the school in February 2015 and putting his hand up her shirt and down her pants, the suit reads.

At some point that girl confided in a school guidance counselor and a Spanish teacher about the incident. That girl’s mother learned of the incident and confronted the school about it in March, resulting in an exchange of emails between that mother, high school principal John Rickert, the counselor and teacher, the suit reads.

The suit contends that the district failed to properly investigate the prior incident and “failed to take immediate and appropriate steps to stop the sexual harassment by [the suspect student] and prevent it from happening again, as required by law.”

The suit also contends that the district failed to follow its own Code of Conduct in the earlier incident.

Then, on the morning of the June 2015 incident, the students were able to walk by the new cafeteria, through the English hallway, R wing and the C wing and access an empty classroom without supervision, the suit reads.

“They did not take any action pursuant to their own policy,” LaMarche said. “Had they done that, it is likely that this would not have happened. It’s likely that this could have been prevented. It should have been prevented.”

LaMarche said the incident continues to have a significant impact on the girl’s life.

“She’s not doing as well as we hoped that she would,” LaMarche said. “It’s been very difficult for her.”

The alleged incidents involving the suspect student happened in the same time period as unrelated allegations against two other male high school students and a thumb drive found in the school’s library.

The investigation into the thumb drive led to charges against the two male students, one for attempted unlawful surveillance.

Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, scook@dailygazette.net or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.