Ex-student sues Solebury School after grand jury sex probe

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An alumna sued a Pennsylvania boarding school Friday. (WPVI)

An alumna sued a Pennsylvania boarding school Friday, weeks after a grand jury report detailed a half-century of sexual abuse there, accusing the school of ignoring warnings the athletic director was sexually involved with her.

The "Jane Doe" accuser said the Solebury School's permissive atmosphere enabled staff to prey on vulnerable teens. The woman, now 29, said that athletic director Lyle Hazel started grooming her in 10th grade and started a sexual relationship in 12th grade that continued for years and left her unable to finish college.

"It's like so many of these Solebury relationships, where the teacher gets the student while they're there, and they extend it for years after. It's because of the environment," the woman's lawyer, Marci Hamilton said.

Hazel, 49, of Roebling, New Jersey, was later fired from the school in New Hope for embezzling $4,000 from his department, the lawsuit said. A phone listing for him could not be found Friday.

Hazel invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself during his grand jury testimony, the report said. He and his wife lived at the school with their child.

Solebury School head Tom Wilschutz said Friday the woman came forward in response to a letter the school sent in 2014 seeking potential victims. Wilschutz pledged to be "vigilant" in following new policies to prevent the type of sexual abuse described in the former student's lawsuit.

Bucks County District Attorney Matthew Weintraub, who issued the grand jury report, called Solebury's long-standing tolerance of sexual abuse "unconscionable." Only one teacher was ever charged with a sex crime, in the 1990s.

The report described nine adults who sexually abused students at the Bucks County school since the 1950s, but only "Jane Doe" can still file suit.

Hamilton, the woman's lawyer, said she does not want to pursue criminal charges given the ordeal of a trial.

Solebury costs as much as $55,000 a year for boarders; the school encourages informality and social interaction between staff and students, the lawsuit said.

Tom Wilschutz, Head of Solebury School, released the following statement:

"Because this matter is now before the court, I won't be providing any further information about this case, which was filed on behalf of one of the former students referenced in the recent report from the Bucks County Investigating Grand Jury. This former student, who graduated in 2005, came forward in response to the letter in 2014 from Solebury School where we asked any student with any allegation or concerns to report it either to the school or the District Attorney. I have not reviewed the filing at this point. I and the members of the faculty, administration and staff at Solebury School have made extensive efforts since my arrival as Head in 2008 to strengthen our policies, procedures and training to ensure our students gain all of the benefits of a Solebury education in a safe and protective atmosphere. That is our top priority and we are vigilant in following those policies and looking for additional areas of improvement. The School's Board of Trustees has been fully supportive of these efforts. As I have said previously, we strive to move forward with openness and integrity for the victims of abuse, for our entire community and for this institution that we care for so deeply."
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