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Chappaqua Board Unaware Of Defense Blaming Sex-Abuse Accusers, Member Says

Chappaqua school board Vice President Victoria Tipp, pictured, said that the board was unaware of a legal defense put forth by a district attorney blaming student sex-abuse accsuers. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie
Chappaqua school board members at their Sept. 1, 2016 meeting. Photo Credit: Tom Auchterlonie

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Chappaqua school board Vice President Victoria Tipp stated at a Thursday meeting that neither she nor her board colleagues were aware beforehand of a legal defense put forward by a school-district attorney that blamed student sex-abuse accusers in a lawsuit against the district that relates to former Horace Greeley High School drama teacher Christopher Schraufnagel.

“I personally learned of the filing in the media," Tipp said.

Tipp also blasted, in general, blaming child sex-abuse accusers.

“I do not believe children should ever be held responsible in cases of criminal sexual abuse.”

Tipp, who noted that she was only speaking for herself and not for the overall board, also criticized the inclusion of a public relations firm in a retainer for its legal counsel; the mere possibility of hiring one last year caused public derision.

“It is contrary to how we have always worked as a board."

The board vice president also argued that the history involving Schraufnagel, who worked at Greeley from 2003 to 2015, is not indicative of the Chappaqua Central School District as a whole.

“The recent events do not represent who we are and do not reflect the values of our school district.”

To date, there are six student civil accusers against the school district who have filed items with the state Supreme Court; their parents are listed as co-plaintiffs while Schraufnagel is listed as a co-defendent. Three of the accusers have a lawsuit pending against the district while three more are seeking court permission to proceed with filing theirs.

The controversial defense was included in court paperwork submitted in July. The papers were given in response to the initial trio's lawsuit, which was filed in May. The attorney who made the argument on the district's behalf is Brian Henderson of the White Plains law firm Henderson & Brennan.

It is not clear who authorized Henderson to use the defense, which drew an outcry of criticism among members of the public after it became known outside of the lawsuit's parties.

School board President Alyson Gardner declined to comment on who authorized the defense when asked by Daily Voice after the meeting.

“I can't discuss that right now,” she said.

Gardner implied during the meeting that, to date, the district counsel's response to the litigation has included multiple players; among them are its insurance company. Her comments came in response to concerns from Lynne Lambert, a community member who asked for the district to share more details about its legal processes.

“That should not be confidential information," Lambert said. "We're taxpayers here who are involved in paying for these processes.”

There is one piece of paper not included in the reply filing that could show who authorized it, according to subsequent letters submitted to the court by the plaintiffs' attorney.

The attorney, David Engelsher, wrote follow up letters to Henderson's firm on July 14 and Aug. 10. In his letters, Engelsher noted that the district's filing was marked "verified," and added that it did not include a verification page, which in turn would have a signature from a district representative. 

Schraufnagel, who is accused of sexually abusing multiple students, has accepted a plea deal in a related criminal case. The deal, which is supported by the criminal case's accusers, would have Schraufnagel convicted under three misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of a child. It would also subject Schraufnagel to three years of probation and monitoring similar to that of a sex offender. However, it would not require Schraufnagel to register as a sex offender. The deal still must be accepted by New Castle Town Justice Douglas Kraus.

Previous coverage regarding Schraufnagel can be read here.

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