Attorney General launches investigation into sex abuse claims at Long Island high school

BABYLON, New York (WABC) -- New York Attorney General Letitia James has launched an investigation into a Long Island school district after allegations of widespread sexual abuse and misconduct.

The probe comes one week after students at Babylon High School staged a walkout in support of former students who say they were sexually abused by teachers and coaches.

"Every student on Long Island and across New York deserves to feel safe and protected at school," James said in a statement. "The reports of sexual abuse of students at the hands of their teachers and coaches are troubling and must be investigated. My office is launching an investigation into the Babylon School District over these disturbing allegations. The safety and wellbeing of students, both past and present, is of utmost importance, and we will do everything in our power to protect their right to a safe learning environment."

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Five employees have been reassigned after the former students came forward with stories of sexual abuse involving teachers and coaches.

"I applaud Attorney General James for launching an investigation into the serious allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct made recently by former Babylon High School students," Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. ""I am in awe of the courageous individuals who have come forward, both former and current students, to tell their stories. Their allegations must be thoroughly investigated, and I'm confident that will now happen with the Attorney General's investigation."

Brittany Rohl, 28, who graduated Babylon Junior-Senior High School in 2011, said in an open letter addressed to the Babylon Board of Education that between 2010 and 2013, a teacher groomed and sexually abused her until her second year of college.

"It was really insidious and it just kept building for a few years," Rohl said. "He was my track coach, started to kind of isolate me, tell me I was special...And then it became physical. Before that, he sat me down on the bleachers and told me he was going to take my virginity."

She said it went on for years.

"He visited me when I was in college for sex weekly," she said.

Lawmakers in Albany are also demanding change.

"How can we change the laws to make sure this never happens again, (that) all of our children and students are protected? state Senator Phil Boyle said. ""I personally believe this is something like the Catholic Church scandals. They don't fire the teachers, they reassign them, or go to another school district, and the predatory behavior continues. We will not allow this to happen in New York State."

Several other students shared their stories of sexual abuse at a school board meeting.

"I know that he would smack people on the but with tennis rackets, twirl it in between their legs, look underneath their skirt, like it was an ongoing thing," said Darcy Bennet, a 2009 graduate.

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Barbara Maier, a 2008 graduate, said she was also a victim.

"We didn't know," she said. "We were kids. This is wrong."

Rohl and Bennet both said they had no understanding of what was inappropriate conduct was, and they say remedies are long overdue.

"I don't want another kid to go through what I went through at that school," Bennet said.

School officials say there is no tolerance for such behavior.

"As these are all matters pertaining to personnel and individuals are protected under privacy laws, the district is limited in sharing further information," Superintendent of Schools Linda Rozzi said in a statement. "However, it is important to know that the district does not tolerate abuse of any kind, takes all allegations very seriously and is committed to acting upon each and every claim we receive. We commend the brave individuals for coming forward and sharing their voices. It is the district's priority to provide an educational setting where students feel safe and supported."

The Suffolk County DA and police department released the following statement:

"The Suffolk County District Attorney's Office and the Suffolk County Police Department are continuing to actively investigate the ongoing allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct that occurred at the Babylon School District. As announced today, the Office of the New York State Attorney General has launched a separate civil investigation into these allegations. In light of the announcement of the civil investigation, the District Attorney's Office and Police Department advise any person that believes he or she was the victim of a crime to contact the Suffolk County Police Department's Special Victims Section at 631-852-6167."

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