The parents of two girls who attended a small private school in Santa Fe filed a lawsuit Wednesday claiming a male tutor had sex with one girl and made inappropriate comments to the other.
The lawsuit also alleges that Antony Berzack, the leader of the Secondary Learning Center on St. Francis Drive, also known as the Santa Fe Secondary School, did nothing to stop the behavior of tutor Joel Abraham and encouraged female students to take private sessions with him.
The complaint says Berzack and Abraham closed the school in the spring because of the allegations, have left Santa Fe since then and now may be using different names. Efforts to reach them for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful. A lawyer for the school also couldn’t be reached.
The lawsuit, filed in state District Court, accuses Abraham, Berzack and board members of the school of negligence, negligent supervision, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
“Obviously, teachers who abuse young girls have no place in education,” said Santa Fe attorney Kate Ferlic, who filed the complaint with lawyer Jamison Barkley. “It’s unfortunate that it happened in a place that parents trust — or think they can trust.”
According to the complaint, Abraham’s tutoring consisted of “grooming … sexual advances and sex” with one girl, who was 14 when the incidents began. Abraham, then over 40, had unrestricted access to the school because of his friendship with Berzack, the lawsuit says.
Abraham also coerced the girl to come to his house and spent time with her elsewhere off campus, the suit says, having sex with her on multiple occasions.
When a teacher at the school voiced concerns about the contact between the tutor and the girl, Berzack defended Abraham and punished the teacher, the lawsuit says. He did the same to students who raised concerns, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit says that when the girl’s mother found inappropriate emails and texts between the girl and Abraham, she filed a police report in July 2015. The police, in interviewing Abraham, said he did not have his driver’s license on him to prove who he was and couldn’t remember his Social Security number, the lawsuit says.
Though Abraham is not accused of having sex with the second girl, the lawsuit alleges that he made inappropriate comments and advances, once suggesting she dress in a maid’s outfit and fishnet stockings.
Kelli Ann Zinn, who said she worked as a math teacher last year at the Secondary Learning Center, told The New Mexican on Wednesday she advised Berzack that there was some sexual harassment going on between Abraham and some students.
“He did nothing about it,” Zinn said. When she followed up with emails to Berzack, “He ignored my emails and locked me out of the building,” she said.
The lawsuit seeks punitive and compensatory damages for the girls, who have undergone therapy and other treatments to deal with the trauma, the lawsuit says. One of the girls withdrew from the school two weeks before the end of a semester.
“The girls who have come forward are very brave,” Ferlic said. She said it is possible that other girls who attended the school will come forward with similar complaints.
Berzack is listed as an adjunct faculty member on Santa Fe Community College’s website. A representative for the adjunct faculty said Berzack is still technically a member of the adjunct staff but is not on the college schedule to teach a class in the fall.
Several calls made by The New Mexican to the Secondary Learning Center over the summer were not returned. Though the school’s website makes no mention of the school being closed, its online calendar for August 2017 is blank.
Dana Rodda founded and ran the Secondary Learning Center from 1993 to 2014 before Berzack took over. Rodda died of cancer in 2016. The school typically enrolled less than 30 students in grades 4-12.
Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or email@example.com.