Attorneys with a Southfield law firm say they will file a civil lawsuit against the Clarenceville and Troy school districts over allegations that a former teacher and theater volunteer committed sexual misconduct against eight former students.
The alleged misconduct ranged from making sexually explicit remarks to sexual assault, according to Elaina Bailey and Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller of the law firm Sommers Schwartz, which represents the eight women.
The two attorneys held a press conference Wednesday, Sept. 9, in which they named the teacher, who has taught theater and choir at several Detroit-area schools.
The Oakland Press is not naming the teacher because he has not been charged with any crime.
The Farmington Public Schools placed the teacher on paid leave last month pending an internal investigation after several former Clarenceville High School and Clarenceville Middle School students posted allegations of sexual misconduct on social media.
No Farmington district students have alleged misconduct by the teacher. He taught at a high school and middle school in the Farmington district since August 2018.
The Clarenceville School District said in a statement posted on its website that “the District wants to make it clear that it followed its established policies, worked with the appropriate authorities, and sought to respond both compassionately and in a fashion that reflected due process for everyone concerned when the concerns were originally raised and fully investigated.”
Kerry Birmingham, a Troy School District spokeswoman, said the accused teacher is a graduate of the district and was involved in a school theater production as an alumnus, but the district has no record of any complaints from students about misconduct, Birmingham said. He never worked in the district, she said.
The teacher has worked with theater or choir programs at Madison High in Madison Heights, Summit Academy in Romulus, the Metropolitan Detroit Youth Chorus, Christ Church Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Crescent Academy in Southfield and the University of Michigan Summer Vocal Academy of Music, Bailey said.
No complaints have been registered against him from those encounters with youth, but more victims are expected to come forward, Esser-Weidenfeller said.
Emmalee Forrester, a former Clarenceville High School student, said at the press conference that the teacher befriended her after her stepfather died.
She said he would brush up against her in a sexual manner and then say, “Oops, I’m sorry, that was an accident.” She knew it wasn’t an accident when he started sending her sexually explicit text messages.
She said she notified school officials of the alleged misconduct. They said they would investigate, but they never contacted her with any result, she said. School officials told her to keep the allegations about the teacher to herself, she said.
She used to ask herself if she was mistaken about the teacher, but said she now knows that wasn’t the case.
“I wasn’t wrong. I just had a school district that failed me,” she said, holding back tears.
She appeared at the press conference with six other “strong and courageous” women who had experienced similar alleged misconduct.
“We will no longer let anyone silence us,” she said.
Bailey said the law firm has noted the teacher followed a pattern of paying special attention to girls who were dealing with difficult circumstances, such as the loss of a parent through death or divorce.
The special attention, given in the form of gifts or treats, would then evolve into sexually explicit remarks or text messages. In some cases, the teacher offered to pay the girls to come to his Berkley home and clean, and that’s where some of the alleged assaults occurred, Esser-Weidenfeller said.
The alleged misconduct dates to 2005 and involved girls who were 13-16 years old when it began, she said.
The Livonia, Troy and Berkley police departments are investigating, she said.
Clarenceville High School and Clarenceville Middle School are in Livonia. The Clarenceville district covers parts of Livonia, Redford Township, Southfield and Farmington Hills.
Esser-Weidenfeller and Bailey are encouraging additional victims to come forward.
The Sommers Schwartz law firm has represented survivors of sexual assault against the Boy Scouts of America, Larry Nassar and Michigan State University, and most recently, Robert Anderson and University of Michigan.