A Cold Spring Harbor school district building.

A Cold Spring Harbor school district building. Credit: Pablo Garcia Corradi

Cold Spring Harbor Central School District will pay a combined $14 million to settle federal lawsuits by two former students who alleged they were sexually abused by their now-deceased teachers more than 40 years ago, and that school officials ignored and later covered up the allegations.

The settlements, which pay $8 million to one victim and $6 million to the other, rank as the largest of the nearly two dozen settlements paid by Long Island school districts under the 2019 Child Victims Act, which extended the deadline for when sexual abuse lawsuits could be filed. Under the act, with a window that closed in November 2022, lawsuits could be filed in state or federal court until victims were 55.

The settlements, reached in June, were approved at the district's Aug. 7 school board meeting and resolve a pair of 2021 federal lawsuits filed in Central Islip by Lynda Cutbill and Susan Sandler, who each graduated from Cold Spring Harbor High School in 1982. Cutbill's lawsuit named art teacher William Kail and Sandler's lawsuit named science teacher Thomas Kohm.

"There is no question that the sums are significant for the district," Cold Spring Harbor Superintendent Jill Gierasch wrote in a letter to parents last week. "However, we strove to minimize the payments through negotiations over an extended period of time and by retaining expert legal teams with experience in [Child Victims Act] litigation and sexual abuse. Everyone from the district’s side recognized the seriousness of the allegations and the significant inherent financial risks to the district should either or both cases have gone to trial."

District officials declined to comment. One of the victims and her attorney confirmed the settlements but declined to comment, citing a confidentiality clause in the deal.

Gierasch said the settlements will have the "least financial impact to the community. This includes vigorously litigating with the insurance carriers and advocating for state assistance. While the litigation with the carriers has not yet been settled, we will continue our efforts to fight as aggressively as possible."

The agreement requires the district to pay the women a combined $4.5 million within the next 60 days — funds that will come out of its unassigned fund balance, which can be used for emergency expenditures, Gierasch said. The district also has $2.3 million available in a liability reserve fund to pay the victims, she wrote.

The affluent district will finance the remaining $7.2 million and is considering liquidating one of two capital reserve funds to pay off the debt — a move that would require a vote by residents, she wrote. That district would have about $5 million remaining in its other capital reserve account for future projects, Gierasch said.

Sandler, then known as Susan Shanahan, was "groomed, and then horrifically and methodically sexually abused" beginning at age 14 by Kohm during her freshman and sophomore years, the lawsuit states. The abuse, she said, included near daily attacks in a storage area and a violent rape during a school trip in Dallas.

Susan reported the abuse to school officials, the lawsuit states.

But instead of reporting Kohm to law enforcement, the district allowed him to resign and to later utilize the school to "stalk, harass, menace, psychologically terrorize, and retaliate against Susan," the complaint states.

In March 2003, Wake County in North Carolina indicted Kohm, charging him with sexual abuse. He was convicted of "Indecent liberty with child" on June 5, 2003, records show, and received a suspended sentence. He died at the age of 77 in 2009.

Meanwhile, Cutbill said in her lawsuit that she was sexually abused from 1979 through 1982 by Kail "hundreds of times. In a horrific procession, beginning when she was a 12-year-old junior high school student and continuing until she graduated in 1982, Kail targeted, groomed, sexually assaulted, and then repeatedly raped Lynda." 

The district later received allegations that Kail was sexually abusing another student but declined to report those to law enforcement or to discipline the teacher, the suit states. Kail died in 2021 at 87.

Cold Spring Harbor settled another Child Victims Act lawsuit in March for $300,000 related to 40-year-old allegations filed by a former student against science teacher Domenick Gruosso, records show. Gruosso died in 2008 at 72.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the subject Thomas Kohm taught at Cold Spring Harbor High School. He was a science teacher.

Editors' note This story has been updated to remove the name of a former student who settled a Child Victims Act lawsuit with the Cold Spring Harbor district.

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