An investigative report released earlier this year by the Gow School, a southern Erie County boarding school for students with dyslexia, found accusations of sexual abuse there in the 1990s, but no evidence of failure to act by the school’s administrators. Three lawsuits, however, allege the school failed to protect its students.
New York City law firm Greenstein & Milbauer detailed the three ongoing Child Victims Act lawsuits on Tuesday in a virtual session with the media.
One of the suits is on behalf of 41-year-old Ohio man Aaron Worby. He alleges that English teacher Thomas Simmeth raped him while he was a student at Gow in the 1990s, when it was an all-boys school.
Worby said he confided in Simmeth about his sexuality and an experience he’d had in the woods with other Gow boys. Later that very same night, Worby said, Simmeth snuck into his dorm and raped him.
“It became so much shame that I couldn't speak about it. I couldn't tell anyone,” Worby told reporters over a Zoom conference. “And I had to live with this.”
Although Worby didn’t tell any teachers or administrators about the rape, his lawsuit says the Gow School did know or should have known that Simmeth was unfit to work with children.
The school’s own investigative report, a 20-page document compiled by law firm Hodgson Russ and released in March, found that Simmeth is accused of abuse by at least two other students who attended the school in the ’90s.
One of the students said Simmeth put him in a choke hold to the point that he passed out. The student, nor his friends who witnessed it, never told any other teachers or administrators about the incident, according to the report.
Another student’s parents came forward in the late ’90s to accuse Simmeth of sexual abuse, but administrators were unable to directly question the student, who no longer attended the school, according to the report.
Administrators questioned Simmeth about the allegation, the report said, but he denied it.
Simmeth then left Gow in 2001. He was charged in 2003 with indecent assault and battery on a student at his new boarding school in Massachusetts, but was found not guilty.
Last year, Simmeth did not respond to interview requests for Gow’s report.
“In my opinion, this is a predator,” Worby said. “This is a very dangerous person.”
Greenstein & Milbauer’s two other lawsuits accuse former Gow English teacher Jack Jackson of sex abuse. One of the victims in those lawsuits says he reported the abuse to another teacher, who failed to take the complaint to administrators or police.
Jackson, who left the Gow in 1992, was interviewed for the school’s report and denied that he ever had sexual contact with any student.
The other teacher, who allegedly was told about the abuse but did not report it, is still employed by Gow but has been placed on administrative leave, according to the report.
The victims’ attorney, Robert Greenstein, said he often sees examples of what’s known in the education world as “passing the trash,” where schools let teachers, who are accused of abuse, quietly move on to another school.
“They all put their reputation first,” Greenstein said. “And were more concerned with that, and concealing everything and quite often threatening the victims that did come forward to try to keep it quiet.”
Hugh Russ, an attorney for the Gow School and whose firm conducted the report, released a statement Tuesday saying the school apologizes to the victims, but stressed their report found no evidence of a cover-up.
He also reiterated that Gow commissioned the report last year on its own initiative and before any lawsuits were filed. A former student had come forward to the school in February 2019 to alleged abuse by a teacher during the ’90s.
Russ also said he’s requested additional information from the victims’ attorneys over several months, but they have not responded.