Long Island's Babylon Junior-Senior High School is in the grips of a sexual-abuse scandal.
Brittany Rohl's account of being groomed by a teacher ignited a cascade of similar allegations.
Rohl and another accuser told Insider about the "reckoning" ahead of an outpouring of allegations.
When the Babylon, New York, school district announced earlier this month that a high-school teacher had resigned amid unspecified allegations, Brittany Rohl thought of about six names that could fit the bill.
The district never detailed the allegations against the unidentified teacher, and the Suffolk County police on Long Island said they found no evidence of a crime. But the incident motivated Rohl, now 28, to speak out about her own experience with a different teacher at Babylon Junior-Senior High School.
"I felt like this was the time, if ever, to come forward," she told Insider in an interview Monday.
On November 8, Rohl wrote an eight-page letter to the Babylon Board of Education, alleging that a former teacher at the school groomed her from the age of 16 and initiated a two-year sexual relationship with her once she turned 18. The relationship left her feeling suicidal, she wrote in the letter.
Rohl told Insider she had always dreamed of a "reckoning" at her alma mater but didn't have "much hope that that would happen."
She said it was a "surreal" experience seeing just how wrong she was.
Rohl's letter prompted a wave of women to come forward with their own allegations against staff members at the school. Dozens told their stories in a dramatic six-hour school-board meeting on November 15.
Rohl told Insider she expected a few other women to show up and speak that day but was surprised when even more stepped up to the microphone. She said some even showed up during the meeting after watching it unfold on Zoom and deciding to get in their cars and drive there to speak.
"I really thought that no one would bat an eye about this" or would try to discredit her, Rohl said. "To see so many people show up to the meeting — the venue was moved from the library to the auditorium — and then I got a standing ovation at the end of my speech, it just felt like a dream come true."
One of the women who spoke was Darcy Bennet, who graduated in 2009. Bennet alleged that a former teacher at the school, who also coached the tennis team, had touched her inappropriately at a summer camp between her seventh- and eighth-grade years and then tried to kiss her when she was in the ninth grade and attending a different school. Bennet told Insider that when she later described these unwanted sexual advances to a Babylon guidance counselor, the man was relieved of his coaching duties but allowed to continue teaching. (The teacher did not return a request for comment.)
Neither Bennet nor Rohl pressed charges over their claims, which date back to the late aughts and early 2010s, and some evidence that might have corroborated them has most likely been lost over the past decade.
Rohl told Insider she spent a lot of the meeting crying as she heard Bennet and the other women's stories.
"Even though I knew this was happening on a systemic level, to hear it coming from the people that were directly affected by it was still heartbreaking," she said.
Following the explosive school-board meeting, the school district placed five teachers at the school on paid leave, pending investigations.
"The Babylon School District has assured law enforcement, the New York State Attorney General's Office, and the New York State Department of Education of the district's full cooperation with any, and all investigations they undertake," a district spokeswoman told Insider in a statement Tuesday.
Also Tuesday, New York's attorney general, Letitia James, announced that her office was launching an investigation into claims of sexual abuse in the Babylon School District. A representative for the New York Department of Education told Insider it took "all allegations of misconduct against educators extremely seriously" but could neither confirm nor deny whether any investigation connected to the allegations was ongoing.
A representative for the Suffolk County Police Department told Insider detectives had been in contact with the district but no one had filed a complaint with the department as of Monday.
Inappropriate relationships between teachers and students went unchecked in Babylon's close-knit high school, accusers said
Rohl and Bennet told Insider they thought the school's close-knit environment fostered an atmosphere in which inappropriate relationships between teachers and students went unchecked. Babylon combines middle- and high-school grade levels and has small class sizes — just 109 students graduated in spring of this year, according to Patch. Students come to regard teachers "more as friends" in this familiar environment, Bennet told Insider.
Rohl and Bennet said that in their experience the small-school feel of Babylon created a "cult-like" atmosphere where complaints about teachers were ignored by the administration. Bennet told Insider she felt as if she were being put "under a microscope" when she was questioned about her tennis coach by a guidance counselor, who asked a then-16-year-old Darcy whether she'd be willing to testify in court about her allegations.
"I was terrified and told them that he was a family friend so I couldn't," Bennet wrote in an Instagram post outlining her allegations. "They didn't do any follow up or tell my family. The outcome of this investigation was that he was taken off as the tennis coach, he wasn't fired."
"The school board knew what was going on," she said, adding: "I've had teachers reach out to me and tell me that they knew. I don't know how this has been going on for so long and how people turn a blind eye to everything."
Bennet's claims were bolstered by a former member of the Babylon Board of Education, Linda Scordino, who spoke at the November 15 school-board meeting. Scordino alleged that the superintendent Linda Rozzi was aware of some of the accusations made against teachers and coaches at the school.
Scordino, who served on the school board from 1994 to 2000 and was the wife of Ralph Scordino, the town mayor who died last year, said she invited Rozzi to her house when she became superintendent in 2015 to "give her some history and ask her for her help with this."
"She came with a board member. I outlined everything to her," Scordino said at the meeting. "It is just so infuriating to me when I hear her say, 'We didn't know anything about any of this.'"
Rozzi did not return multiple requests for comment from Insider.
Scordino said at the meeting that she had been haunted by the fact she didn't do more to address abuse allegations at the school.
"I'm not the type of person who gives up," she said, "but this time I did, and I have to live with that forever."
Accusers say they want to build a better Babylon High School, not pursue legal action
Rohl and Bennet told Insider they weren't planning any legal action against the school or the men who they say abused them. But they want to ensure the school protects other students from becoming victimized.
"I'm not interested in money," Bennet said. "I care more about what's going to be happening in Babylon in the future and getting Babylon back on its feet."
"I don't want any kid to go through what I went through," she added.
Rohl would like to see an overhaul of the school board, starting with "survivors or loved ones of survivors of this specific abuse" being put in charge.
"Survivors need to be in those rooms where decisions are being made," she told Insider. "We need to get a real autopsy of what happened here so that this never happens again, anywhere."
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