Lawsuit accuses Fort Lee school district of failing to protect students from abuse

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Wednesday, March 20, 2024
NJ school district accused of failing to protect students from abuse
Toni Yates reports from Fort Lee with the latest on the lawsuit filed against the school district.

FORT LEE, New Jersey (WABC) -- A new lawsuit accuses a school district in New Jersey of ignoring pleas for help from two former students who say they were abused by a teacher.

The lawsuit was filed Wednesday against the Fort Lee School District and the Fort Lee Board of Education over allegations stemming from 2012 and 2017.

The lawsuit says a former special education math teacher was inappropriate with two middle school students at Lewis F. Cole Middle School.

Kaylie Quezada, now 19, is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The other victim is identified as 22-year-old Jane Doe. Both say the school district and school board were negligent in responding to their complaints about the teacher.

Jane Doe accused him of harassment in 2012 and Quezada says he touched her inappropriately beginning in 2017 when she was 13 years old. She described being touched on her shoulder and on her waist several times, as well as being squeezed so hard around her waist that she couldn't breathe.

She said she reported it to school officials and they did not follow protocol.

"I was too young to understand if his behavior was normal but when I look back, I now realize he was grooming me," Quezada said. "However they did not report this to the state as they are required to do so, and I was told to just go back to class and not speak about this with anyone else."

The lawsuit says over the course of several years, several students lodged complaints about the same teacher.

Jane Doe said she complained in 2012 when she was 12 years old.

"Made lewd and inappropriate sexual comments to her and about her, specifically about her body parts, he also touched her body in a sexual manner," said attorney for the plaintiffs Jeffrey Fritz.

The lawsuit argues more should have been done to protect the students. The lawsuit seeks damages and changes in how the district and Board of Education deal with student complaints.

"When a child makes a complaint or allegation of abuse, we know that there are two things that need to happen: they need to be taken seriously and there needs to be immediate action to protect those, and that action needs to be taken by those in charge - the administrators," Fritz said.

Eventually in 2018 the teacher was found guilty in municipal court of harassment for offensive touching in Quezada's case. He was placed on paid administrative leave and allowed to retire and he had to give up his teaching certificate.

Eyewitness News reached out to the Fort Lee School District for comment.

"The Fort Lee School District has a long tradition of academic success for all of our students by offering a positive learning environment for everyone," the superintendent said. "We are unable to comment on any pending or potential litigation."

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