ASHTABULA, Ohio — A group of former students from the Ashtabula Area City School District have filed a federal lawsuit claiming they were sexually abused by a former teacher and coach during the late 1980s.
According to a release from the Cleveland-based firm Friedman Menashe Nemecek & Long, at least six individuals say Christine Seuffert "groomed and engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior" with them decades ago. In addition, the suit alleges other district employees knew of her actions but did nothing to help, and in one instance even threatened some students with retaliation if they came forward.
Per the filing, Seuffert's "grooming" involved things like providing alcohol to students and making inappropriate comments or physical contact. She would then engage in sexual activity with "several" minors, six of whom revealed their names in the lawsuit now as adults.
The former students say multiple employees were aware of what Seuffert was doing back then, but either took no action or actively tried to silence their concerns. This allegedly included the plaintiffs being told they would be kicked off their respective athletic teams if they acknowledged having sex with Seuffert.
"It was a strict 'don't ask, don't tell' policy with serious repercussions for those who were most vulnerable to harm if they spoke out," attorneys for the plaintiffs stated.
Meanwhile, Sueffert remained a prominent member of the district, eventually being elected to the Ashtabula school board in 2009. She later served as the body's president and was reelected to a fourth term in 2021, but shortly thereafter, the board received an anonymous letter outlining her rumored misconduct.
Following an investigation, County Prosecutor Colleen M. O'Toole declined to file criminal charges against Sueffert since the statute of limitations had expired. Nevertheless, the Star Beacon reported fellow board members were unanimous in their calls for Sueffert's resignation, and she eventually stepped down last July 12.
Still, lawyers representing the former students have blasted the district for its lack of action over the past 30-plus years, accusing administrators of participating in a "cover-up." Besides Sueffert, the district and 10 other unnamed defendants are named in the suit.
"The District had ample knowledge and failed to protect its students," Tuesday's release read. You can read the lawsuit below.
In a statement provided to 3News by the law firm Andrews & Pontius, Interim Ashtabula Superintendent John M. Rubesich (who was not with the district prior to Sueffert's resignation) said he and other school employees would not comment on pending litigation. However, he pledged the district would fully cooperate with any investigation, and asked those reporting possible child abuse to either call children's services at (440) 998-1811 or make an anonymous report through the district's online portal.
"The District takes seriously its responsibility to its students, staff, and the community to promote a safe and nurturing educational environment," Rubesich wrote.