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Westchester School District Gets First Federal Suit Over Sex-Abuse Case

Christopher Schraufnagel walks out of New Castle Justice Court in Chappaqua following his appearance on July 14, 2016.
Christopher Schraufnagel walks out of New Castle Justice Court in Chappaqua following his appearance on July 14, 2016. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- A former Horace Greeley High School student has filed the first federal lawsuit against the Chappaqua Central School District over how it handled the sex-abuse allegations involving former drama teacher Christopher Schraufnagel.

The student, who goes by the pseudonym of "John Roe," was a Greeley student from 2009 to 2013, when he graduated. He is also one of three criminal accusers against Schraufnagel, who last month admitted to having sexual contact with a pair of students as part of a tentative plea deal. The deal has yet to be approved by New Castle Town Justice Douglas Kraus.

A copy of the federal suit can be read here and previous coverage of Schraufnagel can be read here.

In the suit, John Roe alleges that there were two occasions involving sexual contact in 2011 and 2012.

The first instance, the plaintiff alleges, happened in the spring of 2011 and involved being "directed" to perform oral sex on Schraufnagel on the catwalk of the school's auditorium.

The aforementioned occasion began a two-year saga with Schraufnagel, according to the plaintiff.

"Over the next two years, John Roe was involved in a coercive romantic and sexual relationship in which Schraufnagel dominated his thoughts, feelings and academic choices," John Roe states.

The plaintiff describes Schraufnagel as being a controlling person who would pit him against his parents.

"Schraufnagel encouraged John Roe to hate his parents, and frequently insisted that he was the only adult able to “take care of him”, in contrast to John Roe’s own parents whom he characterized as uncaring and homophobic."

The second sexual instance is alleged to have happened in February 2012 during a student trip to Greece. At a hotel, John Roe states, Schraufnagel performed oral sex on another student who was present and directed the plaintiff to do the same on the individual, which he did. John Roe adds that he refused to engage in direct sexual contact with Schraufnagel himself on that occasion. Both students were plied with alcohol, the student also states.

"John Roe describes this event as the lowest moment of his life," the suit adds.

The student is the seventh civil accuser against the district and Schraufnagel. Three others have an active state-level lawsuit while three more are seeking to file state suits of their own. The federal suit is also the first to name current and former Chappaqua school officials as defendants, in addition to the district as a collective entity.

Fellow defendants include Superintendent Lyn McKay; former Interim Superintendent John Chambers, who served for the 2010-11 school year; former Greeley Principal Andrew Selesnick, who served from 2003-12 before serving as assistant superintendent for human resources from 2012-15; current Greeley Principal Robert Rhodes; former Assistant Superintendent human Resources Thomas Cardellichio, who died in 2011; and former Interim Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Paul Citarella, who filled the position in between Cardellichio and Selesnick.

Selesnick is now superintendent of the Katonah-Lewisboro school district. Chambers, who is a retired school administrator, has served as interim superintendent for several school districts in the Hudson Valley in recent years; most recently, he helmed the neighboring Bedford Central School District for much of the 2015-16 school year.

The complaint claims, "The repeated sexual abuse to which John Roe was subjected by Schraufnagel was made possible by the pattern and practice of the CCSD, the Board of Education of the CCSD, Chambers, McKay, Selesnick, Rhodes, Cardellichio and Citarella (the “CCSD Defendants”) of failing to exercise a minimal level of oversight over Schraufnagel’s interactions with its students, failing to respond to clear notice that more scrutiny was needed, and of failing to train its employees and students as to when and how to report the sexual abuse of its students by one of its teachers to school district authorities."

The district does not comment on pending litigation, while Selesnick could not be reached for comment.

Julie Gaughran, who is John Roe's lawyer, told Daily Voice that Cardellichio will be dropped from the case due to his death, which was not initially known by her side.

Gaughran was quoted by The Journal News , which first reported the new suit, as saying, "the claim is that terrible things happened to this person as a student at his high school, and that he had a right to attend high school without these things happening to him."

The suit portrays Schraufnagel has having nearly free reign over students, alleges that the district does not properly comply with the federal Title IX statute, and claims that gay students have not been treated with a different standard than non-gay peers; in the case of the latter accusation, the suit claims that students who are or perceived to be gay were directed to Schraufnagel's theater program.

Schraufnagel is also alleged to have gone on drunken field trips, including in Greece and several occasions in New York City. The suit reiterates previous allegations from other students, which charge that Schraufnagel had them engage in games like "Train Wreck" and "Sick Secret Santa." However, the new suit elaborates on what the occasions were for, charging that the former involved students sharing drug-use histories, while the latter involved students either shoplifting for items or to make "gifts" out of bodily items such as semen or feces. Schraufnagel is also alleged to have kept voodoo dolls and puppets with pubic-hair wigs in his office.

John Roe is credited with effectively serving as a whistle-blower who helped to bring down Schraufnagel. The suit notes that he continued to be the "thrall" of Schraufnagel after graduation - he even assisted him with theater work when at home - but changed course after attending a small, remote college gave him a new perspective.

In June 2015, the suit claims, the plaintiff confronted Schraufnagel and demanded that he resign and that he agreed to do it. John Roe subsequently joined another student abuse accuser at the latter's home and told his parents about the allegations, which in turn triggered a district inquiry that culminated in Schraufnagel's departure and criminal prosecution. The latter student is a fellow criminal accuser and one of the state-level civil plaintiffs.

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