A lawsuit filed Monday accused a Florida Christian school of ignoring reports from students and staff that one of its teachers, Harriet Sugg, was allegedly grooming and inappropriately touching a student.
Sugg, 54, was initially arrested in October on five charges of sexual activity with a 16- or 17-year-old. Three of the charges mention her role as an authority figure at a school at the time of the alleged sexual assaults in 2016 after a woman went to police in 2022 to report the allegations.
Now, the alleged victim is suing The First Academy, where Sugg was a teacher and the alleged victim became a student in 2014 at the age of 15.
“My client was at this new school, trying to get to know people and just meet friends. And here there was an established teacher that seemed like a nice woman, who was very kind to her initially and took a liking to her,” Andrea Lewis, an attorney for the plaintiff, told Fox News Digital. “Obviously, this young child, as we would hope, [developed] a rapport with the teacher and felt very comfortable around her.”
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Within weeks of meeting the minor girl, identified as Jane Doe in the lawsuit to protect her identity, Sugg allegedly wrote her a note that said, “[W]ill you be my little sister?” according to the lawsuit filed in Orange County.
From there, the relationship between Sugg and the student allegedly grew increasingly intimate, and Sugg later allegedly assaulted the girl when she turned 17 in 2016.
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As their relationship developed, however, Sugg’s “manipulation” and “grooming tactics became much more pronounced,” Lewis said.
“As she … began to manipulate the young girl, things took a terrible turn.”
The lawsuit alleges Sugg, who apparently told students she was a sexual assault survivor herself, began abusing Jane Doe when she was a minor on the school’s campus, including her own classroom, in Sugg’s vehicle and “at home when her husband was away.”
“Jane Doe was sexually assaulted numerous times in Harriet Sugg’s classroom,” the complaint states. “Harriet Sugg was assisted in accomplishing her sexual abuse of Jane Doe by the existence of her employee/employer relationship with The First Academy and the school’s willingness to stick its head in the sand and ignore the clear signs of child sexual abuse.”
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Staff members and students apparently reported inappropriate incidents between Sugg and the student to First Academy officials, including hand holding, intimate touching and instances of Sugg and the victim “playing with each other’s hair” and “rubbing” each other’s backs. Sugg’s “own husband reported her conduct and her abnormally close relationship with Jane Doe to The First Academy’s Administration,” the complaint states.
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Jane Doe, now an adult, says the school failed to take action against Sugg after receiving these reports.
The First Academy, a school of approximately 1,300 students run by First Baptist Orlando, addressed the allegations against Sugg in a statement published to the school’s website.
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“We take these allegations with the utmost seriousness and want to assure our community that we are committed to the safety, well-being, and spiritual development of our students,” said First Baptist Orlando Senior Pastor Dr. David Uth and First Academy Head of School Dr. Steve Whitaker. “Our top priority has been and will continue to be a nurturing and Christ-centered environment where students can grow academically, emotionally, and spiritually.”
They added that, due to the ongoing nature of the investigation of Sugg, the school is “limited in what information” it can share.
“While we must protect the privacy of all involved, we will strive to provide updates to the community as the situation develops and as it is legally permissible,” Uth and Whitaker wrote, adding that “First Baptist Orlando and The First Academy do not tolerate any form of sexual abuse or sexual harassment” and “[n]othing is more important than protecting the safety and well-being” of its students.
Lewis alleges that despite keeping records of the complaints flagging Sugg’s behavior with Jane Doe, First Academy did not tell her parents, contact law enforcement or take appropriate action against the teacher.
“It’s really important to look at the school’s role in this,” the attorney said. “One would think that when children, staff, administrators are all getting information or seeing these two people around campus and thinking, ‘That doesn’t look right,’ at the very least, the school would have informed her parents, separated the two, told law enforcement and worked to ensure that the teacher didn’t have access to the child.”
Sugg was released from the Orange County Jail on $25,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 17. The office of Maryjane Cooper, Sugg’s attorney, told Fox News Digital it would not have a comment.
Source: Fox News