Women Seek Accountability Alleged Victims Want to See Ex-Teacher’s Personnel Record; Albany Urged to Act

Women Seek Accountability
Alleged Victims Want to See Ex-Teacher’s Personnel Record; Albany Urged to Act

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By SOPHIA HOLLANDER CONNECT
June 5, 2014 9:33 p.m. ET
Jane Bedell, left, and Lisa Young with attorney Gloria Allred, middle. Peter Foley for The Wall Street Journal

Women who say they were sexually abused by a popular teacher at their Brooklyn private school during the late 1960s and early 1970s outlined a series of demands at a news conference Thursday.

In their first public appearance, three women said they were determined to hold people accountable for abuse they say they suffered at Woodward School and “do what the grown-ups around us back then could not or would not do,” said Jane Bedell, who says she was abused by teacher Bob Rusch from the age of 12.

The women and their lawyers called for a meeting with officials at Poly Prep Country Day School, which acquired the school’s building in 1995. They also urged New York state to amend its statute-of-limitations laws, which give people who were sexually abused as children one of the shortest time frames in the country to file claims.

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“By breaking the silence…by coming together,” they hoped to “overturn the archaic statute-of-limitations laws in New York state and in this country that allow child abusers to go unprosecuted,” Ms. Bedell said.

The abuse allegations from nearly a dozen former students, reported Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, range from touching and groping on school grounds to sexual intercourse on cross-country trips Mr. Rusch ran every summer.

Mr. Rusch, now 71, acknowledged to the Journal that he had sex with students, though he denied certain allegations and declined to comment on others. He apologized for his behavior, saying he is “embarrassed and remorseful and I have been for the better part of 41 years.” He also said he would meet with the women if they wanted.

Attorney Gloria Allred suggested that Poly Prep officials might have personnel records detailing the reasons behind Mr. Rusch’s 1973 firing and questioned whether Poly Prep administrators had any knowledge of the abuse.

“These survivors deserve answers,” said Ms. Allred, noting that Poly Prep recently experienced its own sexual-abuse scandal involving a popular football coach who worked at the school for nearly three decades. Poly Prep issued a sweeping apology in February for the coach’s “horrific misconduct” and its own mishandling of the situation.

A spokesman for the school said officials would be “more than willing” to meet with Ms. Allred and the women, calling the Woodward abuse allegations “deeply disturbing.”

“However we do not believe that Poly has responsibility for abuse that took place at another school more than 20 years before 1995, when Poly acquired the building Woodward was renting,” said spokesman Malcolm Farley.

And while Poly Prep did take on staff from the defunct school, Mr. Farley said, he has “no information about personnel records” at this time.

The history of the two schools’ relationship is complicated. In the late 1970s, Woodward moved from its original building in Clinton Hill to a new one in Park Slope, and was officially renamed the Woodward Park School. In 1995, the school was dissolved and Poly Prep acquired the building, using it to house a new lower school.

After inquiries from the Journal earlier this year about the relationship between the two schools, Poly Prep modified its website, changing the language from its “acquisition of the historic Woodward Park School” to acquisition “of the site.”

In a post still available on the Poly Prep website, two longtime Poly Prep teachers describe meetings between the two administrations to “announce the merger of the schools.”

The culture clash between Woodward Park’s progressive approach and Poly Prep’s more conservative outlook was immediate, the teachers noted.

“The suits address the jeans!” they wrote.

Mr. Farley said such merger talk was more about the school’s operations than its legal status.

Write to Sophia Hollander at sophia.hollander@wsj.com

 

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