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Madison School Board Wins Suit Over Teacher's Sexual Misconduct With Students

Daniel Hand High School in Madison.

Daniel Hand High School in Madison. Courtesy photo.

A Superior Court judge has granted summary judgment to the Madison Board of Education in a case arising from a female high school English teacher who pleaded guilty to sexual misconduct with at least two male students.

Judge James Abrams made his ruling in consolidated actions via three separate lawsuits filed on behalf of male students against the town's Board of Education and Anthony Salutari, the high school principal. The claim against the town of Madison had been previously withdrawn. In addition, the suit against Allison Marchese, the teacher, defaulted.

The Friday ruling dismisses the cases and lets Madison teachers and administrators off the hook, but one of the boy's attorneys said Tuesday he plans on challenging the rulings in the Connecticut Appellate Court.

The case involves Marchese, who admitted to inappropriate conduct with two of the three boys at Madison's Daniel Hand High School. She denied any wrongdoing with the third John Doe. Marchese was sentenced to three years in prison in 2017. She was also given five years' probation and issued a protective order barring her from contact for 10 years with the two boys with whom she admitted she acted inappropriately.

Marchese admitted to upward of three months of online instant messaging of a sexual nature via Instagram with John Doe 1. She also admitted to one encounter involving oral sex with John Doe 2, as well as some online messaging with racy photos sent from the teacher to that boy. But she denies any wrongdoing with John Doe 3, who said the teacher had inappropriate conversations with him and hugged him inappropriately. John Does 1 and 3 were both freshmen and sophomores at the time of the alleged incidents, and John Doe 2 was a junior.

The cases hinged on whether the staff and school administrators should have known that Marchese had acted inappropriately with students.

Marchese was not represented in the civil lawsuits. Her attorney during the criminal phase was New Haven-based attorney William Dow III, who did not respond to a request for comment.

The three students were suing for monetary damages against the school district.

Abrams said the school defendants were entitled to governmental immunity for their discretionary acts. The judge also said none of Marchese's observed behavior hinted at the secret.

"Given the shocking and depraved nature of Allison Marchese's behavior that eventually came to light, the court is strongly tempted to conclude in hindsight that school personnel missed or ignored clearly evident signs of such behavior," Abrams wrote in his ruling involving John Doe 3. "However, the court is bound to make its decision based only on the evidence before it and that evidence does not support such a conclusion. Based on the evidence before the court, there are no facts that would lead any school employee, or a reasonable person, to have reasonable suspicion that the plaintiff, or any student, was being abused or was at risk of imminent harm."

"Because of the vital importance of their function to society, school administrators undoubtedly must be accorded substantial discretion to oversee properly their myriad responsibilities," the judge continued.

One of the biggest arguments John Doe 2 and John Doe 3 made was that Marchese wore risqué and inappropriate clothing to school. The attorney for the school district said that claim offended her.

"I became very incensed that was even a subject up for discussion," said attorney Catherine Nietzel, of Ryan, Ryan, Deluca, which represented the Board of Education. "As a woman, the idea that we can infer her devious sexual proclivities based on clothing that you see in every gym in America was offensive to me, particularly as the daughter of a school teacher."

The plaintiffs argued in their suits that Marchese would, on occasion, call the boys out of the classroom, maintaining that should have been a sign that something was awry.

But Nietzel said, "It was precisely the type of school where, as teachers testified, that they did things like calling students out of the classroom in order to help them."

While Nietzel said she does not see any appealable issues, one of the plaintiffs' attorneys disagree.

"There will be an appeal," said James Harrington of New London's Polito & Associates, and the attorney for John Doe 1. "I don't want to get into the specifics of the appealable issues, but there are a number of them." Harrington also declined to discuss the specifics, except to say, "We remain hopeful the Appellate Court will take another look at the case."

Representing John Doe 2 are Steven Errante and Marisa Bellair of New Haven's Lynch, Traub, Keefe & Errante and Daniel Schofield of Pullman & Comley. Schofield referred all comment to Bellair, who did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Errante was on vacation and was not available for comment.

Representing John Doe 3 was Madison solo practitioner William Bilchick, who did not respond to a request for comment.