New York's attorney general is investigating sexual abuse at Babylon schools on Long Island
Darcy Bennet was in ninth grade when her tennis coach allegedly tried to kiss her.
Fifteen years later, she wants the former teacher at Babylon schools on Long Island to lose his pension. But more importantly, Bennet wants the state of New York to make sure students today can safely go to school without having to be warned about “creepy male teachers.”
“I don't want kids to be going into the school and be afraid of the teachers and be afraid of sexual assault and feel like they're not hurt or they don't matter,” Bennet said. “My main objective is to make sure that none of the kids have to go through what me and the other survivors have gone through with this and make that a safe space again.”
After several former students alleged abuse by educators and coaches at a school board meeting this month, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Tuesday that she is investigating claims of teacher misconduct and sexual abuse of students in Babylon.
“Every student on Long Island and across New York deserves to feel safe and protected at school,” James said in a statement. “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.”
During the Nov. 9 school board meeting, Brittany Rohl, a 2011 graduate from Babylon High School, submitted an eight-page testimony accusing a coach of grooming her since the age of 16 for a sexual relationship after her 18th birthday.
Afterward, Bennet, who graduated in 2009, and other survivors came forward to tell their stories of abuse.
“When I started going to high school — you're going in as a seventh-grader, and you're kind of like mingling with seniors — it's a very weird atmosphere,” she recalled. “As a girl, you get warned about the male teachers that are there that are seen as creepy, or they have been known to sexually assault students there."
Bennet said she came forward with her story when she was 16, but that minimal consequences came about as a result.
“My guidance counselor, she didn't really care, and the only thing that happened was my tennis coach was taken off the team. But he was still allowed to teach the special education students in school. So I'm still around him all the time,” Bennet said.
State Senator Phil Boyle of Bay Shore joined Bennet and other survivors outside of the high school on Tuesday to call for more action.
“We need to change laws to make them stricter, to make sure that all predators are held accountable, fired and if need be thrown in jail,” Boyle said.
He wants New York’s legislative education committees to hold a series of hearings to hear testimony around the state about the lack of accountability for school administrations related to sexual misconduct.
“This is not just Babylon,” he said. “I'm sure there are others out there that have not come forward.”
Last week, Babylon schools placed five employees on paid leave and hired a former Suffolk County prosecutor to conduct a separate investigation of the allegations.
The district said in a statement that it has received “a series of reports” relating to current and former staff members that are under investigation. Bennet said she has yet to be approached by any investigator.
“This was the culture. This was the norm. How were students supposed to know they were being victimized when it was normal practice? This has gone on long enough!” said Barbara Maier, a former student at Babylon High School. “I will do everything in my power to push new laws and amend existing laws to protect the current and future students the way we needed someone to protect us.”
Boyle, the dean of Long Island’s GOP state delegation, is also interested in reopening a litigation window for adult survivors to sue their alleged abusers under the state’s Child Victims Act. The window closed in August with over 10,000 lawsuits filed in two years.
“We're going to open the statute limitations for a certain period of time to allow victims of teacher predation to get their fair share of justice, and actually they need funds for therapy,” he said.
"This is not Republican versus Democrat,” Boyle continued. “I speak for all my colleagues who want to protect students, make sure that any predators are held accountable and make sure that school administrators do not wash this under the rug.”
Bennet, who alleges she was abused as a teen by her tennis coach, said she struggled with substance use and had poor mental health into her 20s due to the abuse.
“People have gone through trauma. I've gone through a lot of trauma in my life. And it's just having that option there, whether or not I would actually follow through with that,” she said. “You know, I'm 30, I'm married, have a career, and I just don't want to be picked apart by my story in court, because I know my truth.”
In a statement, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, whose children go to school in Babylon, said he is “in awe of the courageous individuals” who have come forward and feels confident in James’s investigation.
“I also want to acknowledge the many outstanding teachers and professionals that I have personally encountered for the outstanding work they do for my kids and all of the children in our district,” he said.
The district has also been in contact with attorney Laura Ahearn, of the Crime Victims Center, to provide services to survivors and additional training to staff and students.