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Chappaqua School District Open To Anonymity In Sex-Abuse Lawsuits

Christopher Schraufnagel walks out of New Castle Justice Court in Chappaqua following his appearance on July 14, 2016.
Christopher Schraufnagel walks out of New Castle Justice Court in Chappaqua following his appearance on July 14, 2016. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- The Chappaqua Central School District announced that it is talking with student sex-abuse plaintiffs and their families about keeping their identities private.

The plaintiffs all have legal cases pending against the district over sex-abuse allegations relating to former drama teacher Christopher Schraufnagel. Three of the plaintiffs have active lawsuits while three more are seeking to sue the district.

"The school district wants to protect the privacy rights of the students and their families and, at their request, we will discuss an appropriate stipulation with plaintiffs' counsel to protect their anonymity and seal the court files regarding these matters," said Brian Henderson, a lawyer for the district, in a Friday statement.

The statement marks an apparent about face for the district's legal strategy to date. Henderson recently asked a state Supreme Court judge to have the mother of one of the plaintiffs, known to the public only as "J.L.," be publicly listed in legal papers. He previously argued that the mother's anonymity, which was included without judicial approval, was prejudicial to his client.

Eric Goldman, an attorney for the mother and J.L., countered that the district already knew the identities of his clients, as they were provided, and that naming the mother was tantamount to naming her son, who is automatically afforded anonymity due to having been an underage plaintiff.

Another student plaintiff's mother, who is currently granted a pseudonym along with her son, is asking that a judge seal her entire case, partially out of fear that the school district will get the anonymity in documents overturned. Another factor for the mother's request stems from Henderson blaming student victims in the sole active lawsuit for liability, which was in a reply to the case's petition.

Henderson's statement is a rare deviation for the school district, albeit an indirect one, which generally does not comment on pending litigation outside of legal motions and paperwork. 

Schraufnagel has a total of six civil accusers. He also is facing criminal action stemming from three accusations, although he pleaded guilty earlier this one to a trio of misdemeanor charges as part of a plea deal with the Westchester County District Atttorney's office.

The deal, which calls for Schraufnagel to plead to three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, involves three years of probation and monitoring similar to that of a sex offender. The deal is subject to approval from New Castle Town Justice Douglas Kraus, who according to a recent story from The Journal News, has concerns because it does not call for Schraufnagel to register as a sex offender.

Previous coverage of Schraufnagel can be read here.

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