DELMAR — Bethlehem Central School District and its school board have each been named as defendants in a civil lawsuit alleging one of its bus drivers had repeated, unpermitted sexual contact with an elementary school student.
The civil lawsuit was filed by Albany law firm LaFave, Wein & Fragment and New York City law firm Jeff Anderson & Associates with the state Supreme Court in Albany County on Aug. 4 under the Child Victims Act. The alleged contact took place several times between 1987 and 1989 while the unnamed victim was in kindergarten and first grade at the former Clarksville Elementary School.
According to the lawsuit, the bus driver pursued the victim on board the bus as it was parked at the elementary school at 58 Verda Ave.
The suit accuses the school district of failing to report “known and/or suspected abuse of children” by the accused, and that it failed to follow proper diligence while hiring the driver.
“Defendants failed to investigate [the accused’s] past history of inappropriate conduct and, through the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known of [the accused’s] propensity for child sexual abuse,” the suit states.
Cynthia LaFave, the victim’s attorney, explained that the accused is not named as a defendant because her firm is driving for policy change. Her firm, in partnership with Jeff Anderson & Associates, has filed more than 470 cases in upstate New York.
“The lawsuit is against the entity, the school district, we think should have protected the student,” LaFave said. “We have more cases than anybody in upstate New York and we have not named — other than naming in the complaint the abusers. What we are doing is trying to change policy, and trying to protect people through child protection protocols.”
In the district’s answer document submitted on Aug. 31, Bethlehem Central denies all but a few of the facts as they are stated within the lawsuit. Among those facts denied is that the district operated, maintained and owned Clarksville Elementary School, which it did before selling the building to the Albany County Sheriff’s Department in 2018. The district also denies that the accused, identified by name throughout the suit, was a bus driver and an employee of the schools. Because this information could not be corroborated, Spotlight News has decided to withhold the accused abuser’s name.
Nonetheless, on the claim the district failed to follow due diligence prior to hiring the former driver, the district stated it “conducted itself in accordance with the applicable customs and practices in the industry,” and followed regulatory requirements under federal, state and local jurisdictions.
“If Plaintiff was caused to suffer any damages as alleged in the Complaint, then said damages were not caused by the culpable conduct, if any, on the part of the District or its agents, servants or employees, but rather they were caused solely by the culpable conduct of [the accused], Plaintiff and/or third parties over whom the District has no control or legal responsibility.”
The school district further argues that the CVA “is or may be determined to be” unconstitutional under state or federal law.
Bethlehem Central was approached for comment but did not provide one in time for publication. In an email, it confirmed that the accused is not a current employee of the school.
The unnamed victim is now a parent living outside of the state. The plaintiff has asked to remain anonymous out of fear that friends and family members would treat them differently upon learning the news.
“I also have several close family members who still live in the area where the abuse occurred [who] do not know about the abuse,” the victim states in the lawsuit. “I want to be in control of whether they find out about the abuse and when. I fear it would strain our relationship if they found out about the abuse, and especially if they found out about it through someone or something else, including the media.
“I would also feel re-victimized and re-traumatized if my identity as a sexual abuse survivor were to be disclosed publicly against my will.”
Bethlehem Central closed Clarksville Elementary in June 2011 after more than 60 years as a school.
New York passed the Child Victims Act in 2019, extending the statute of limitations and allowing survivors of sexual abuse to file suit prior to an Aug. 14 deadline. More than 9,200 complaints have been filed as part of the CVA process, including thousands against the church, health care workers, teachers, family members and the Boy Scout of America. Although the window for filing claims is closed, the suits are still being processed and will be processed and served in the coming weeks.
“There were probably thousands of people who either did not know that they could sue under the CVA or did not sue under the CVA,” said LaFave. “I think there was an epidemic where children were being abused and not protected. It is wonderful that the CVA was passed because it has given a voice to many people who had no voice before.
“I think that it has already changed our society for the better.”
There is an update to this story naming the bus driver Click Here.