LOWVILLE — A lawsuit filed against Lowville Academy and Central School District and its Board of Education on Monday, claiming a teacher sexually abused a student more than 40 years ago, has prompted another person to share similar recollections of abuse.
Jason A. Frament, the plaintiff’s attorney with LaFave, Wein & Frament, Guilderland, confirmed Friday that a second person has come forward with “very similar” allegations against the teacher, A. Ronald Johnson, after seeing reports of his alleged sexual abuse in the media.
The suit names Lowville Academy and Central School District and its Board of Education as defendants, as well as Lowville United Methodist Church and three other church entities which had authority over the Lowville church at the time. Mr. Johnson is not a defendant in the suit.
A second lawsuit is expected to be filed in state Supreme Court sometime next week, Mr. Frament said. Upon the second suit’s filing, he said the law firm may move to join the two suits, but for now, they are two separate cases, both accusing Mr. Johnson of similar abuse.
Mr. Johnson was a music teacher at what was then Lowville High School and choir director at Lowville United Methodist Church. The suit claims the school and church breached duties of care owed to the child, and negligence in their employment and supervision of Mr. Johnson.
The Lowville school board accepted Mr. Johnson’s resignation in July 1989 after 16 years at the high school. Mr. Johnson resigned to move to Cooperstown and pursue a graduate degree in guidance counseling at Hartwick College, Oneonta, former Superintendent William H. Wormuth said at the time.
“It represents a real loss for our music department, faculty and community at large,” Mr. Wormuth said.
The plaintiff, identified in court documents as AL500 DOE, was a student at Lowville High School and a member of the church’s choir.
The court documents accuse Mr. Johnson of sexually abusing a teenage boy from 1979 to 1981 at the school, church and off-site locations. The plaintiff was between 15 and 18 years old at the time.
Mr. Johnson, 75, formerly of Lowville, but now of Cooperstown, denies the allegations. He was reached by WWNY-TV on Thursday.
“I find that ridiculous,” Mr. Johnson told the TV station. “I’m in a state of shock.”
The Times called Mr. Johnson’s home phone Friday morning. His wife answered and said he wasn’t home, but he would return the phone call. Follow-up calls made Friday afternoon to the Johnson household went unanswered.
Calls to both the church and Lowville Academy’s superintendent went unanswered Friday.
Mr. Frament said the firm’s clients were not believed when speaking of their alleged abuse in the past.
“Finally, they’re getting a voice,” he said.
The suits are brought upon by the state’s Child Victims Act, which extends the statute of limitations for survivors of child sexual abuse in criminal and civil cases. The act, passed last year, gives survivors a one-year window to file claims of abuse that had previously exceeded the statute of limitations. The act was set to expire Aug. 14, but extended by five months on May 8 to Jan. 14, 2021, by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The governor extended the act for a second time on May 27, giving survivors until Aug. 13, 2021, to file claims.
Monday’s suit claims both the school and church violated their duties of care owed to the child by promoting themselves as being safe for children and then failing to prevent the alleged sexual abuse, as well by being negligent in their employment and supervision of Mr. Johnson.
As stated in the suit’s first cause of action, it is further alleged the school and church “violated a legal duty by failing to report known and/or suspected abuse of children by A. Ronald Johnson and/or their other agents to the police and law enforcement,” which is a direct violation of the state’s mandatory reporter law under the Child Protective Services Act of 1973.
The Child Protective Services Act was enacted to encourage more complete reporting of child abuse and maltreatment, according to the state’s Office of Children and Family Services. The law also established child protective services offices in each of the state’s 62 counties.
Outlined by the state’s Social Services Law, Article 6, Title 6, Section 413, a mandated reporter is required to report abuse when they have “reasonable cause to suspect” that a child before them in their professional capacity is being abused or maltreated. Among those considered mandated reporters are school teachers, officials, administrators and personnel. A complete list of professionals considered mandated reporters is viewable here.
The court documents do not specify whether school officials, or anyone at the church, were aware of the allegations of abuse at the time or any time thereafter.