Michael Selter is among seven individuals who filed lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by Anthony Prochilo, former principal of Port Jefferson’s Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, under the Child Victims Act. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland and Newsday investigative reporter Jim Baumbach report.

Michael Selter feared going to school every day. He said he never knew when the Port Jefferson high school principal would call him out of class, direct him to one of three darkened places — auditorium, boiler room or his office — and sexually molest him again.

For decades, Selter said he kept the abuse a secret from even his closest family members because he felt such shame.

“It’s a permanent scar,” said Selter, 65, of Manhattan.

Selter is one of seven former Port Jefferson students to sue the school district alleging sexual abuse, and their lawsuits are among more than 200 lawsuits filed against Long Island public school districts under the Child Victims Act, according to court records reviewed by Newsday. 

Two dozen school districts, led by Cold Spring Harbor and Harborfields, have paid a combined $28.8 million to settle 37 lawsuits by former students who say teachers, administrators and fellow students sexually abused them, Newsday found.

Districts paid former students between $5,000 and $8 million to end their lawsuits accusing the districts of not doing enough to stop the sexual abuse. The school districts' insurance companies during those times often either no longer are in business today or declined to cover the claims because the allegations date from so far back, records show.

About 150 cases remain active. The Bay Shore district is a defendant in 45 lawsuits, and Herricks faces 24 after paying to settle three.

“I don't think that districts are prepared in some cases for payouts for these kinds of settlements,” said Ron Masera of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. Masera also is the superintendent of Center Moriches School District, which is not facing any Child Victims Act lawsuits.

State lawmakers in 2019 passed the Child Victims Act, which allowed childhood survivors of sexual abuse a one-year window to file a lawsuit for damages. Then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo extended the window a year, to August 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the law's passage, survivors were prevented from filing suit once they turned 23. 

Selter alleges in the lawsuit that administrators at that time did nothing to stop Principal Anthony Prochilo from repeatedly molesting the students as teenagers in the 1970s. Prochilo died in 2002 at age 76.  

Newsday does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent. Selter agreed to go on the record.

Selter attended Port Jefferson's Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, also known as Port Jefferson High School. He said the abuse happened from 1974 to 1977, court records show. He said in an interview that he never told his parents about the alleged sexual abuse.

The 37 suits that were settled contain confidentiality agreements that bar former students from discussing their lawsuits.

Not all lawsuits have resulted in financial payouts. Suffolk Supreme Court Judge Leonard Steinman dismissed a former student’s lawsuit against the West Babylon district in September, writing that the ex-student “cannot prove her case.”

School districts have preferred out-of-court settlements instead of defending themselves at jury trials. The cost of going to trial can be significant.

The Cold Spring Harbor district agreed in August to pay $8 million and $6 million, respectively, to two former students who said in separate lawsuits that they were sexually abused by their now-deceased teachers more than 40 years ago. One lawsuit named an art teacher and the other named a science teacher.  Both lawsuits said school officials ignored and later covered up the allegations.

“We were very concerned about going to trial with two separate juries with the allegations that were posed,” Superintendent Jill Gierasch said at a September school board meeting.

To help pay for the settlements, district officials encouraged community members to support liquidating a $7.7 million capital reserve fund, which was created three years ago to pay for future construction projects. The vote passed, 241 to 27, on Nov. 16

“Never do I think these board members or the board members prior thought we would liquidate a capital reserve to pay off Child Victims Act claims,” Gierasch said at the board meeting. “Their intent was to use that for future projects.”

Other districts might not be fortunate enough to have access to such a fund. Some districts may have to cut educational programs or increase class sizes to offset the payouts, school officials said.

The New York State School Boards Association has been lobbying state lawmakers to provide funding to districts that are facing large payouts because their insurance companies from the time of the abuse allegations either are no longer in business or declined to cover the claims.

“It's the taxpayers who end up having to bear the weight of that financial commitment,” said Jay Worona, deputy executive director of the state school boards association. “We shouldn't have to choose between paying these claims and cutting educational programming. That just doesn't seem like a good solution here.”

Masera added, “The challenges I think are much larger than anybody could have imagined. Because the sheer number of cases that exist and the payouts that could come from it would total in the tens of millions of dollars, or hundreds of millions of dollars across the state.”

JP O'Hare, a spokesman for the state Education Department, declined to comment.

Laura Ahearn, an attorney who is the executive director of the Ronkonkoma-based Crime Victims Center, said people who suffered sexual abuse as children “had to endure emotional trauma and overcome obstacles that most who were never abused would struggle to comprehend.”

Ahearn said the Child Victims Act led survivors to tell their stories, often for the first time.

“No amount of compensation can give them back the innocence that was stolen from them,” said Ahearn, who added that she is representing former students in lawsuits against two districts that she declined to identify.

Selter said he didn't report the abuse as a high school student at Port Jefferson, thinking no one would believe him. He said he is tired of hiding.

“I carried this over 40 years thinking I'm the only victim,” he said. “The biggest thing I want to say is that school at the time failed me, the system failed me.”

Other former students across Long Island have similar feelings. Forty-five former elementary school students each filed separate lawsuits against the Bay Shore district. All of the lawsuits accuse the district of failing to protect them from alleged sexual abuse by a longtime elementary school teacher, Thomas Bernagozzi. He retired in 2001.

Bernagozzi repeatedly exposed himself and molested students from ages 5 to 13, the lawsuits state. The allegations span three decades, ending in 2001, according to the lawsuits filed in Suffolk Supreme Court.

Bernagozzi, 75, denied the allegations in court papers. There was no answer when reporters knocked on the door of his residence on Nov. 8. He didn't return messages seeking comment. Bernagozzi's attorney, Samuel J. DiMeglio Jr. of Huntington, declined to comment.

The district condoned Bernagozzi’s behavior, the lawsuits said. District employees warned students in the early 1980s to avoid being alone with Bernagozzi, and administrators allowed the teacher to continue a male-only after-school program after a parent reported sexual abuse of a child in the mid-80s, according to the lawsuits. The district declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Administrators at the southwestern Suffolk district “knew or should have known that Bernagozzi was unfit, dangerous, and a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the minors entrusted to his counsel, care and/or protection,” one lawsuit states.

Bay Shore schools spokeswoman Krystyna Baumgartner declined to answer questions about the district's ability to cover potential payouts. Superintendent Steven Maloney did not return messages, and Board of Education President Jennifer Brownyard declined to comment.

In all 45 cases, the district filed a counter suit against Bernagozzi, arguing he should be held responsible instead of the district. The district’s court papers said if a jury rules in favor of a former student, “It will be by the virtue of the actions, omissions, recklessness, carelessness, and negligence” of Bernagozzi.

The lawsuits, filed between July 2020 and August 2021, are ongoing.

Some districts have struggled to locate the insurance policies that were in existence during the time of the allegations. 

“A lot of districts are facing this fact that they can't even find who their insurance carrier was, or whether that insurance carrier is even still in business,” said Masera, the Center Moriches superintendent. “And even if you were well-insured back then, now in 2023 dollars, the insurance coverage might be woefully inadequate.”

School systems that could not determine who its insurance company was at the time of the sexual abuse allegations typically hired an “insurance archaeologist firm,” which employs people who literally dig through a district’s historical records in search of insurance documents.

The Herricks district, for example, said it has paid $27,131 to the Rutherford-New Jersey company Insurance Archaeology Group through October regarding the 27 lawsuits the district faces.

Simply locating the insurance company from that time does not automatically ensure coverage.

Cold Spring Harbor's insurance companies from the early 1980s declined to cover the sexual abuse claims that led the school to settle three lawsuits for $14.3 million, Gierasch said. 

Cold Spring Harbor filed lawsuits against four insurance companies in hopes of recouping some of the settlement payouts. The insurance companies contend the district should have known about the abuse, school officials said at a September board meeting.

Attorneys for the insurance companies declined to comment or did not return messages seeking comment. The companies include Graphic Arts Mutual Insurance Co., Utica Mutual Insurance Co., Allianz Insurance Co. and Chubb. 

Meanwhile, Cold Spring Harbor's legal bills in all of the lawsuits — defending the district against the sexual abuse claims and suing the insurance companies — have eclipsed $1 million, the district said.

That figure includes $620,000 in legal fees defending the district against three Child Victims Act lawsuits and another $400,000 in legal fees associated with the district's lawsuits against its insurance companies, according to records provided to Newsday.

The lawsuits against the insurance companies are ongoing.

Expensive legal bills are a byproduct of these Child Victims Act lawsuits. The Massapequa district paid a law firm $195,332 to defend it against such lawsuits, district records show.

In one, a former student said a middle school teacher sexually abused him at the teacher's house in the late 1950s; in the other, a former student said a group of students sexually assaulted her on a bus in 1988.

Massapequa settled the cases for $50,000 and $22,500, respectively.

Several factors determine the settlement figures during the negotiations between the lawyers for the person suing and the district, said Anthony Fasano of Farmingdale-based Guercio & Guercio, which represents more than three dozen districts on Long Island.

“Some of the more important factors in such consideration are the frequency, nature, and severity of the abuse, the relationship between the abuser and the plaintiff, the impact of the abuse on the plaintiff, and the potential for liability of the abuse,” Fasano said.

The Harborfields school board in August authorized the settlement of two lawsuits in which two former students said they were sexually abused by the same music teacher in the 1970s.

The total payments to the former students was $7.3 million; the district paid $2.55 million and the insurance company covered the rest, according to the settlement agreements. 

Superintendent Rory Manning said the district negotiated with the insurance company to reach those figures. “There was disagreement between our interpretation of the policy limits versus the insurance company’s interpretation of the limits,” he said.

To pay the $2.55 million, the Harborfields district obtained short-term financing at a 6.25% one-year interest rate.

Efforts by lawmakers to help schools pay these settlements have failed to garner enough support in Albany. Deliberations this year over a bill seeking to create a $200 million state fund to provide grants to school districts facing significant payouts stalled.

Assemb. Jen Lunsford (D-Monroe County) sponsored the legislation. She is a graduate of Patchogue-Medford High School.

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who supported the bill, said lawmakers now seek to build financial support for districts into the next state budget. He expects pushback.

“I don’t mean to in any way underestimate the fact that this is going to be a major challenge for the districts, but a major challenge for us legislatively,” Lavine said.

As the co-chair of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association legislative committee, Masera warned legislators in April that paying settlements could lead to reduction in educational programs across Long Island.

"This generation of students should not be subjected to the potential of lost educational opportunities due to incidents that took place decades ago," he wrote.

Jeff Herman, an attorney who represents dozens of people in lawsuits against the Bay Shore and Herricks districts, among others, said: "We don't care where the money comes from."

He added, "If they're negligent and they're responsible, it's not the victims' fault."

The sexual abuse allegations against Port Jefferson have impacted the school community for more than a decade.

In 2011, the district planned to name a road outside the high school after Prochilo, its principal from 1960 to 1984. 

Two people wrote emails to the district in protest, saying Prochilo sexually abused them when they were students. Newsday obtained the emails from Suffolk Supreme Court, where they were filed publicly as exhibits in one of the lawsuits.

The former students, too old to sue in 2011, wrote that they wanted the school to abort the plans to honor the deceased principal, citing the impact the abuse had on their lives.

Port Jefferson nixed plans to name the road after Prochilo and removed all signage honoring him within the school, court papers said.

Kevin Cash, 64, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, is one of the former students who emailed the Port Jefferson superintendent and school board members in 2011 about their plans to honor Prochilo. He wrote in his email Prochilo sexually assaulted him in 1971.

Cash said he chose not to file a lawsuit against Port Jefferson during the lookback window because "I came to some peace with the incident" and "I had to come to a point where I needed to forgive him." 

Cash's story is an integral part of the case against Port Jefferson, according to the attorney for the seven former students, because he testified under oath that he informed a guidance counselor about the alleged abuse. 

Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan and board president Ellen Boehm declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Selter said he is seeking validation on top of the damages in his lawsuit against the school district.

“My parents moved to that school district because they wanted to provide their children with an excellent education," he said. "And guess what I get? My innocence was taken away.”

Michael Selter feared going to school every day. He said he never knew when the Port Jefferson high school principal would call him out of class, direct him to one of three darkened places — auditorium, boiler room or his office — and sexually molest him again.

For decades, Selter said he kept the abuse a secret from even his closest family members because he felt such shame.

“It’s a permanent scar,” said Selter, 65, of Manhattan.

Selter is one of seven former Port Jefferson students to sue the school district alleging sexual abuse, and their lawsuits are among more than 200 lawsuits filed against Long Island public school districts under the Child Victims Act, according to court records reviewed by Newsday. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Two dozen Long Island school districts have paid a combined $28.8 million to settle 37 lawsuits by former students who say teachers, administrators and fellow students sexually abused them, Newsday found.
  • The schools' insurance companies at that time often either no longer are in business or declined to cover the claims because the allegations date so far back, records show.
  • About 150 similar lawsuits Islandwide are ongoing. 
  • View our database to see which Long Island school districts paid millions to settle decades-old sexual abuse claims.

Two dozen school districts, led by Cold Spring Harbor and Harborfields, have paid a combined $28.8 million to settle 37 lawsuits by former students who say teachers, administrators and fellow students sexually abused them, Newsday found.

Districts paid former students between $5,000 and $8 million to end their lawsuits accusing the districts of not doing enough to stop the sexual abuse. The school districts' insurance companies during those times often either no longer are in business today or declined to cover the claims because the allegations date from so far back, records show.

About 150 cases remain active. The Bay Shore district is a defendant in 45 lawsuits, and Herricks faces 24 after paying to settle three.

“I don't think that districts are prepared in some cases for payouts for these kinds of settlements,” said Ron Masera of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. Masera also is the superintendent of Center Moriches School District, which is not facing any Child Victims Act lawsuits.

I don't think that districts are prepared in some cases for payouts for these kinds of settlements.

Ron Masera, Suffolk County School Superintendents Association

State lawmakers in 2019 passed the Child Victims Act, which allowed childhood survivors of sexual abuse a one-year window to file a lawsuit for damages. Then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo extended the window a year, to August 2021, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the law's passage, survivors were prevented from filing suit once they turned 23. 

Selter alleges in the lawsuit that administrators at that time did nothing to stop Principal Anthony Prochilo from repeatedly molesting the students as teenagers in the 1970s. Prochilo died in 2002 at age 76.  

Newsday does not name alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent. Selter agreed to go on the record.

Selter attended Port Jefferson's Earl L. Vandermeulen High School, also known as Port Jefferson High School. He said the abuse happened from 1974 to 1977, court records show. He said in an interview that he never told his parents about the alleged sexual abuse.

The 37 suits that were settled contain confidentiality agreements that bar former students from discussing their lawsuits.

Not all lawsuits have resulted in financial payouts. Suffolk Supreme Court Judge Leonard Steinman dismissed a former student’s lawsuit against the West Babylon district in September, writing that the ex-student “cannot prove her case.”

Million-dollar settlements

Long Island school districts in the last year have paid a combined $28.8 million to settle 37 lawsuits alleging sexual abuse, a cost that could be crippling for schools. NewsdayTV's Macy Egeland and Newsday investigative reporter Jim Baumbach report.

School districts have preferred out-of-court settlements instead of defending themselves at jury trials. The cost of going to trial can be significant.

The Cold Spring Harbor district agreed in August to pay $8 million and $6 million, respectively, to two former students who said in separate lawsuits that they were sexually abused by their now-deceased teachers more than 40 years ago. One lawsuit named an art teacher and the other named a science teacher.  Both lawsuits said school officials ignored and later covered up the allegations.

“We were very concerned about going to trial with two separate juries with the allegations that were posed,” Superintendent Jill Gierasch said at a September school board meeting.

To help pay for the settlements, district officials encouraged community members to support liquidating a $7.7 million capital reserve fund, which was created three years ago to pay for future construction projects. The vote passed, 241 to 27, on Nov. 16

“Never do I think these board members or the board members prior thought we would liquidate a capital reserve to pay off Child Victims Act claims,” Gierasch said at the board meeting. “Their intent was to use that for future projects.”

Other districts might not be fortunate enough to have access to such a fund. Some districts may have to cut educational programs or increase class sizes to offset the payouts, school officials said.

The New York State School Boards Association has been lobbying state lawmakers to provide funding to districts that are facing large payouts because their insurance companies from the time of the abuse allegations either are no longer in business or declined to cover the claims.

“It's the taxpayers who end up having to bear the weight of that financial commitment,” said Jay Worona, deputy executive director of the state school boards association. “We shouldn't have to choose between paying these claims and cutting educational programming. That just doesn't seem like a good solution here.”

It's the taxpayers who end up having to bear the weight of that financial commitment.

Jay Worona, state school boards association deputy executive director

Masera added, “The challenges I think are much larger than anybody could have imagined. Because the sheer number of cases that exist and the payouts that could come from it would total in the tens of millions of dollars, or hundreds of millions of dollars across the state.”

JP O'Hare, a spokesman for the state Education Department, declined to comment.

Stolen innocence

Laura Ahearn, an attorney who is the executive director of the Ronkonkoma-based Crime Victims Center, said people who suffered sexual abuse as children “had to endure emotional trauma and overcome obstacles that most who were never abused would struggle to comprehend.”

Ahearn said the Child Victims Act led survivors to tell their stories, often for the first time.

“No amount of compensation can give them back the innocence that was stolen from them,” said Ahearn, who added that she is representing former students in lawsuits against two districts that she declined to identify.

No amount of compensation can give them back the innocence that was stolen from them.

Laura Ahearn, Crime Victims Center executive director

Selter said he didn't report the abuse as a high school student at Port Jefferson, thinking no one would believe him. He said he is tired of hiding.

“I carried this over 40 years thinking I'm the only victim,” he said. “The biggest thing I want to say is that school at the time failed me, the system failed me.”

Other former students across Long Island have similar feelings. Forty-five former elementary school students each filed separate lawsuits against the Bay Shore district. All of the lawsuits accuse the district of failing to protect them from alleged sexual abuse by a longtime elementary school teacher, Thomas Bernagozzi. He retired in 2001.

I carried this over 40 years thinking I’m the only victim.

Michael Selter, sexual abuse victim

Bernagozzi repeatedly exposed himself and molested students from ages 5 to 13, the lawsuits state. The allegations span three decades, ending in 2001, according to the lawsuits filed in Suffolk Supreme Court.

Bernagozzi, 75, denied the allegations in court papers. There was no answer when reporters knocked on the door of his residence on Nov. 8. He didn't return messages seeking comment. Bernagozzi's attorney, Samuel J. DiMeglio Jr. of Huntington, declined to comment.

Thomas Bernagozzi, a former third-grade teacher at Bay Shore's Gardiner Manor Elementary School accused of sexual abuse in 45 lawsuits, shown in 1995. Credit: Courtesy of the Islip Bulletin

The district condoned Bernagozzi’s behavior, the lawsuits said. District employees warned students in the early 1980s to avoid being alone with Bernagozzi, and administrators allowed the teacher to continue a male-only after-school program after a parent reported sexual abuse of a child in the mid-80s, according to the lawsuits. The district declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Administrators at the southwestern Suffolk district “knew or should have known that Bernagozzi was unfit, dangerous, and a threat to the health, safety and welfare of the minors entrusted to his counsel, care and/or protection,” one lawsuit states.

Bay Shore schools spokeswoman Krystyna Baumgartner declined to answer questions about the district's ability to cover potential payouts. Superintendent Steven Maloney did not return messages, and Board of Education President Jennifer Brownyard declined to comment.

In all 45 cases, the district filed a counter suit against Bernagozzi, arguing he should be held responsible instead of the district. The district’s court papers said if a jury rules in favor of a former student, “It will be by the virtue of the actions, omissions, recklessness, carelessness, and negligence” of Bernagozzi.

The lawsuits, filed between July 2020 and August 2021, are ongoing.

Insurance document digging

Some districts have struggled to locate the insurance policies that were in existence during the time of the allegations. 

“A lot of districts are facing this fact that they can't even find who their insurance carrier was, or whether that insurance carrier is even still in business,” said Masera, the Center Moriches superintendent. “And even if you were well-insured back then, now in 2023 dollars, the insurance coverage might be woefully inadequate.”

School systems that could not determine who its insurance company was at the time of the sexual abuse allegations typically hired an “insurance archaeologist firm,” which employs people who literally dig through a district’s historical records in search of insurance documents.

The Herricks district, for example, said it has paid $27,131 to the Rutherford-New Jersey company Insurance Archaeology Group through October regarding the 27 lawsuits the district faces.

Simply locating the insurance company from that time does not automatically ensure coverage.

Cold Spring Harbor's insurance companies from the early 1980s declined to cover the sexual abuse claims that led the school to settle three lawsuits for $14.3 million, Gierasch said. 

Cold Spring Harbor filed lawsuits against four insurance companies in hopes of recouping some of the settlement payouts. The insurance companies contend the district should have known about the abuse, school officials said at a September board meeting.

Attorneys for the insurance companies declined to comment or did not return messages seeking comment. The companies include Graphic Arts Mutual Insurance Co., Utica Mutual Insurance Co., Allianz Insurance Co. and Chubb. 

Meanwhile, Cold Spring Harbor's legal bills in all of the lawsuits — defending the district against the sexual abuse claims and suing the insurance companies — have eclipsed $1 million, the district said.

That figure includes $620,000 in legal fees defending the district against three Child Victims Act lawsuits and another $400,000 in legal fees associated with the district's lawsuits against its insurance companies, according to records provided to Newsday.

The lawsuits against the insurance companies are ongoing.

Expensive legal bills are a byproduct of these Child Victims Act lawsuits. The Massapequa district paid a law firm $195,332 to defend it against such lawsuits, district records show.

In one, a former student said a middle school teacher sexually abused him at the teacher's house in the late 1950s; in the other, a former student said a group of students sexually assaulted her on a bus in 1988.

Massapequa settled the cases for $50,000 and $22,500, respectively.

Several factors determine the settlement figures during the negotiations between the lawyers for the person suing and the district, said Anthony Fasano of Farmingdale-based Guercio & Guercio, which represents more than three dozen districts on Long Island.

“Some of the more important factors in such consideration are the frequency, nature, and severity of the abuse, the relationship between the abuser and the plaintiff, the impact of the abuse on the plaintiff, and the potential for liability of the abuse,” Fasano said.

The Harborfields school board in August authorized the settlement of two lawsuits in which two former students said they were sexually abused by the same music teacher in the 1970s.

The total payments to the former students was $7.3 million; the district paid $2.55 million and the insurance company covered the rest, according to the settlement agreements. 

Superintendent Rory Manning said the district negotiated with the insurance company to reach those figures. “There was disagreement between our interpretation of the policy limits versus the insurance company’s interpretation of the limits,” he said.

To pay the $2.55 million, the Harborfields district obtained short-term financing at a 6.25% one-year interest rate.

Seeking state's financial help

Efforts by lawmakers to help schools pay these settlements have failed to garner enough support in Albany. Deliberations this year over a bill seeking to create a $200 million state fund to provide grants to school districts facing significant payouts stalled.

Assemb. Jen Lunsford (D-Monroe County) sponsored the legislation. She is a graduate of Patchogue-Medford High School.

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who supported the bill, said lawmakers now seek to build financial support for districts into the next state budget. He expects pushback.

“I don’t mean to in any way underestimate the fact that this is going to be a major challenge for the districts, but a major challenge for us legislatively,” Lavine said.

recommended readingFind out which LI school districts paid millions to settle decades-old sex-abuse claims

As the co-chair of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association legislative committee, Masera warned legislators in April that paying settlements could lead to reduction in educational programs across Long Island.

"This generation of students should not be subjected to the potential of lost educational opportunities due to incidents that took place decades ago," he wrote.

Jeff Herman, an attorney who represents dozens of people in lawsuits against the Bay Shore and Herricks districts, among others, said: "We don't care where the money comes from."

He added, "If they're negligent and they're responsible, it's not the victims' fault."

Fallout at Port Jefferson

The sexual abuse allegations against Port Jefferson have impacted the school community for more than a decade.

In 2011, the district planned to name a road outside the high school after Prochilo, its principal from 1960 to 1984. 

Two people wrote emails to the district in protest, saying Prochilo sexually abused them when they were students. Newsday obtained the emails from Suffolk Supreme Court, where they were filed publicly as exhibits in one of the lawsuits.

Anthony Prochilo, former principal at Port Jefferson's Earl L. Vandermeulen High School accused of sexual abuse in seven lawsuits, in a 1970s yearbook photo. Credit: Earl L. Vandermeulen High School

The former students, too old to sue in 2011, wrote that they wanted the school to abort the plans to honor the deceased principal, citing the impact the abuse had on their lives.

Port Jefferson nixed plans to name the road after Prochilo and removed all signage honoring him within the school, court papers said.

Kevin Cash, 64, of Lawrenceville, Georgia, is one of the former students who emailed the Port Jefferson superintendent and school board members in 2011 about their plans to honor Prochilo. He wrote in his email Prochilo sexually assaulted him in 1971.

Cash said he chose not to file a lawsuit against Port Jefferson during the lookback window because "I came to some peace with the incident" and "I had to come to a point where I needed to forgive him." 

Cash's story is an integral part of the case against Port Jefferson, according to the attorney for the seven former students, because he testified under oath that he informed a guidance counselor about the alleged abuse. 

Port Jefferson Superintendent Jessica Schmettan and board president Ellen Boehm declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

Selter said he is seeking validation on top of the damages in his lawsuit against the school district.

“My parents moved to that school district because they wanted to provide their children with an excellent education," he said. "And guess what I get? My innocence was taken away.”

Understanding the Child Victims Act

  • Opened a temporary window beginning in 2019 for anyone who suffered sexual abuse as a child to file claims. That window closed in August 2021.
  • Changed the age limit for people to file child sexual abuse claims going forward to 55. Previously people could not file claims once they turned 23.

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