An alleged culture of sexual misconduct at a Long Island high school, described as a longtime “open secret” in the community, has been dragged into the light by more than 20 students who came forward to detail painful memories of abuse.
Made at a public hearing Nov. 15, the allegations against teachers and coaches at Babylon High School included instances of grooming, attempted kissing, and unwanted and lewd physical contact in the guise of helping student-athletes’ form.
“The bad guys were everywhere,” former student Brittany Rohl told News 12, “and the good guys sat back and watched.”
Rohl, 28, kicked off the Babylon firestorm by sending an eight-page letter to the Babylon Union Free School District earlier this month, alleging that her track coach had groomed her for sex and waited until days after her 18th birthday to take her virginity. He continued abusing her until her second year of college, she said, monitoring her on “an hourly basis.”
Rohl wrote that she was moved to act after seeing that her teacher had been removed from the classroom a few weeks before over “disturbing allegations.”
The letter, also posted to Instagram, went viral. The school district scheduled a meeting that Monday, Nov. 15. Rohl, who lives in Florida, flew home to the close-knit beachside village of 12,000 to attend.
More than 100 people showed up in person, with more than 1,000 logging in to watch on Zoom.
The meeting opened with officials announcing the hiring of an outside investigator and the implementation of sensitivity training. They asked that current students, alumni, and parents limit their speaking time to three minutes, according to The Independent.
Rohl stepped up to the microphone first, saying she would continue to speak for as long as she wanted. When she indicated she would be naming the educators she knew to be abusers, she was warned by a lawyer there that publicly naming accused teachers could constitute defamation, causing an uproar.
Once the din had died down, Rohl spoke again. “To the parents of this community,” she said, according to Patch, “I would advise you that until the following individuals are removed from student contact, it’s not safe to send your children to school here.”
She named four current teachers, and six former ones. Her words were met with applause. Women lined up behind her to speak. Many of them were emotional, crying as they spoke.
A 2009 graduate of Babylon, Darcy Bennet, said her tennis coach often commented on her body, and once tried to kiss her in her own home. “Luckily, I was able to move my face in time so that he only kissed me on the cheek,” she said.
She choked up as she spoke, describing how the teacher would use racquets to smack students on the butt, running them between students’ legs and up their skirts.
“[He] pressed his body against mine, grinded against me, and then moved his body in a way to show me the right way to serve,” Bennet said, according to CBS New York, “and I was 14 at the time.”
Bennet said she reported the coach to guidance counselors, who had him removed from his coaching position. But he remained a teacher in the district.
“We were basically screaming for help,” Bennet told Newsday, “but Babylon didn’t do anything to help us.” Bennet said at the meeting that she later developed substance abuse issues and “spiraled into a deep depression.”
Another woman, now a public defender, graduated in 2011 alongside Rohl. She said that, in her line of work, forcible touching by a teacher—like the kind she experienced—would result in a misdemeanor charge and sex offender status.
“In Babylon, you get a giant pension,” she said.
Another alumna, Katherine Crawford, spoke to News 12 on Thursday, detailing how her pleas for help had been ignored after she was sexually harassed by older students. “The principal would constantly tell me it was my fault,” Crawford said. “I shouldn’t look the way I do. I shouldn’t dress the way I do. I’m a beautiful girl and this is what happens.”
Crawford said she switched to homeschooling, graduating a year early to escape the community.
In the wake of the accusations, the school district’s board of education put five teachers on reassignment to their homes. The district’s superintendent, Linda Rozzi, did not name them in a Tuesday statement.
“As these are all matters pertaining to personnel and individuals are protected under privacy laws, the district is limited in sharing further information,” she said. “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.”
“I think it was an open secret,” Linda Scordino, a former school board president, told News 12 last week. “But there were very few people who had the guts to fight it. It was part of the culture. It wasn’t just one or two teachers.”
Scordino, the wife of Babylon Village’s late mayor, sat on the board of the Babylon Union Free School District from 1994 to 2000. In an open letter she posted to Facebook, she claimed she began hearing “very disturbing things” about teachers and coaches.
“The same teachers’ names kept coming up, again and again,” she wrote, adding that the majority of the abusive teachers were the most popular ones with parents: “It was like a made-for-TV movie.”
Parents who complained were given “the same stock line,” according to Scordino: The child was mistaken, the teacher was retiring, this was the first complaint ever made.
Scordino claimed she had tried to speak up at the time but was told she “wasn’t playing ball.” The president of the teachers’ union allegedly told her, “We’ll make sure you can never prove it.” Another official, she said, warned her: “Keep your mouth shut or you’ll ruin our real estate values.”
She also spoke at Monday’s meeting, reading aloud sections of her letter. Scordino said she had invited Rozzi to her home after she moved to Babylon to “ask her for help.” Rozzi, Scordino alleged, showed up with a board member. “I outlined everything to her,” Scordino said. “It is just so infuriating to me when I hear her say, ‘We didn’t know anything about any of this.’”
Scordino’s daughter, who was also allegedly targeted while a student at Babylon, stood beside her, affirming her mother’s accusations.
Parents and students refused to leave the meeting until the five named teachers still employed by the district were barred from the school building. The board went into an emergency executive session.
The meeting ended at roughly 1 a.m., after the board re-emerged to say the teachers publicly accused would be “reassigned” to their homes until an investigation was complete.
The next morning, hundreds of students participated in a walkout. Principal Al Cirrone circulated a letter to families commending them. “It takes a lot of courage for young adults to advocate for change and we are proud of them for using their voice,” he wrote. “The safety, security, and well-being of our students remains our top priority.”
The school has hired outside special counsel, Chris Powers of Ingerman Smith, LLP, to look into the claims.
The father of two Babylon High graduates, Kenneth Silverman, said in a letter last week he had asked the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General to open its own file on the district. He said he and other parents didn’t trust an investigation overseen by the board or school administrators.
According to local outlets, officials with the Suffolk Police Department’s Special Victims Unit are now involved in an investigation into the school district. There have not yet been any criminal complaints filed.
“It shouldn’t have taken us until one o’clock in the morning to convince them to remove them from student contact,” Rohl told News 12. “It should take one complaint.”
“It takes a village to raise a child,” Scordino said at the meeting, “and we failed.”