In a lawsuit filed in Wake County Superior Court in January that has so far gone unreported, the parents of two sisters—identified in court documents as Jane Doe I and Jane Doe II—who were allegedly sexually assaulted by a teacher at the Montessori School of Raleigh have accused the school and its leader, Nancy Errichetti, of failing to protect the girls from their abuser and responding their parents’ discovery of the abuse by at first denying it and and then refusing “to take any action with respect to their complaint.”
This afternoon, a spokeswoman for the school’s Board of Trustees told the INDY
it is “standing behind [Errichetti] one hundred percent.”
On November 7, Nicholas Smith, a longtime math director at the school, was arrested and charged
with more than twenty counts
of statutory rape, possession of child pornography, and related allegations. That day, the school suspended him without pay
. As of March, according to court records, he was being held on at least a $3 million bond. According to search warrants obtained earlier this year by ABC 11
, the first incident occurred in the 2011–12 school year, when Jane Doe I was thirteen and Smith was twenty-eight.
From the ABC story:
Smith, who was 28 at the time, allegedly began flirting with the student. The warrants state at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, Smith claims he and the student had a consensual relationship where both would have sex "on a regular basis" and even kissed on school property.
The warrant also stated Smith and the girl would have sex at the homes of her mother and father. …
Smith's actions came to a halt when he "attempted to communicate" via the social media app Snapchat. The student rejected Smith's advances and told her parents only about the Snapchat incident.
Her parents eventually withdrew her from the school, stating they were "unable to have closure on the actions that were known by them at the time."
In the complaint, attorneys for the two girls elaborate on their stories in sometimes gut-wrenching detail. According to the lawsuit, Smith began “grooming Jane Doe I for his later sexual abuse” prior to her ninth-grade year by making inappropriate comments and having one-on-one interactions with her on field trips in which he promised they would be “close friends.” The summer before her ninth-grade year, he began texting her, sometimes multiple times per day, the lawsuit says.
Soon after school started that year, he kissed her in a school barn used for arts and crafts projects. Throughout the year, the lawsuit says, “Smith engaged in both consensual and non-consensual sex and sex acts with Jane Doe I in a multitude of places …. [He also] induced her to be the subject of child pornography, and he procured and possessed the same.” He also told her he was her “first boyfriend” and that he “loved her,” and said he would kill himself if she told anyone about their relationship, the lawsuit says.
The complaint also alleges that “prior to [Smith] sexually abusing Jane Doe I, [the school] received reports of [Smith] engaging in inappropriate conduct with other young female students. However, [the school] failed to appropriately address, remedy and/or investigate the same. Further, during the time that [Smith] was grooming and thereafter sexually abusing Jane Doe I, [the school] received specific reports from teachers and staff of [Smith] engaging in inappropriate behaviors with Jane Doe I, specifically including but not limited to holding her hand, being alone with her in compromising positions (both on and off campus, including a hotel room on a school trip) and otherwise.”
In August 2012, the lawsuit says, the school finally acted on those complaints. While the school “failed to interview Jane Doe I, failed to properly investigate the reports, failed to notify Jane Doe I’s family, and failed to take any meaningful action” against Smith, it did have him sign a “corrective action plan” in which he agreed to “no longer engage in inappropriate conduct with his young female students, and wherein he agreed to do other things such as ‘not to enter a girls [sic] hotel room on school trips.’”
This, the lawsuit says, constitutes “willfully [turning] a blind eye to the extensive sexual abuse of Jane Doe I” and essentially gave Smith license to repeat that pattern of abuse with her younger sister, whom he allegedly began abusing in the 2015
–16 school year, when she was in eighth grade. While this abuse was taking place, according to the complaint, the girl’s parents discovered that Smith had attempted to friend her on Snapchat. She declined, and Smith became angry. The parents allegedly reported this to Errichetti, who told them “she did not believe their allegations.”
As a result, Jane Doe II left the school, and Smith remained in the classroom until his arrest.
In the lawsuit, the parents alleged that the school defrauded them of the more than $300,000 they paid in tuition; they are also seeking damages related to the physical and psychological injuries their daughters suffered, as well as punitive damages.
In a statement, Montessori School board chairman Joe Lee says the school community “was shocked and saddened to learn about the sexual abuse charges filed against one of our teachers last November. We are aware that a civil lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the victims and have filed an answer to the suit denying all wrongdoing and denying any knowledge of sexual misconduct. You can be certain that the school did not have any knowledge of any sexual assault or criminal behavior by Nick Smith before his arrest. We would have promptly reported any such behavior to law enforcement.
“The board,” he continues, “fully supports our school’s leadership and will vigorously defend our school’s actions. This does not diminish our care or compassion for those impacted in any way. The safety of our students is our top priority. We hold our teachers to high standards, closely monitor our learning environment, and thoroughly and immediately investigate any reports that involve the safety and well-being of our students. We are continuing an independent review of our policies and procedures as part of our ongoing commitment to protect our students.”
In its response to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the school argued, among other things, that the statute of limitations may have expired, the school shouldn’t be held responsible for Smith’s actions, the school wasn’t aware of Smith’s alleged misdeeds, and if the parents knew or should have known about the abuse, “then and in that event, these Defendants plead those Plaintiffs’ own negligence.”
In addition, the school argues, “Errechetti acted reasonably at all times in her capacity as Head of School. [Erechetti] did not have any knowledge of any sexual assault by Smith at any time before his arrest.”
According to the school’s 2016 tax filings, it had more than $5.4 million in net assets at the end of the year, and Errichetti drew an annual salary of $157,864.
Additional reporting by Nick Gallagher.
The complaint and the school’s response can be found here:
See related PDF
See related PDF