The total number of Child Victims Act lawsuits alleging child molestation in the classroom by a now retired Kenmore-Tonawanda school teacher rose to 20 Thursday morning.
Sixteen more lawsuits were filed, all claiming that social studies teacher Arthur F. Werner molested young male pupils in his classroom at Herbert Hoover Elementary School. Four more lawsuits, alleging the same conduct by Werner, were filed last week.
“As of today, we have filed 20 lawsuits against the Kenmore-Tonawanda School District, regarding complaints about Mr. Werner’s conduct,” attorney Christopher J. O’Brien told The Buffalo News on Thursday. “The conduct is alleged at various times during the years 1963 through 1988. That’s 25 years of a pedophile teacher sexually abusing boys in the fifth and sixth grades at Hoover Elementary School.”
The lawsuits, including the four filed last week, accuse the district of “negligence, carelessness, lack of supervision and lack of appropriate policies,” which enabled Werner to molest many young students during his 35-year teaching career.
Werner, now in his 80s, retired in 1993. The News has been unable to contact him since the first lawsuits were filed on Friday.
A spokesman for the school district said the district is “aware of serious and concerning allegations” about Werner’s conduct and has spoken to the state Education Department about the allegations.
When asked by The News whether any complaints were made about Werner’s conduct during his career as a teacher, or whether any disciplinary action was ever taken against him, spokesman Patrick Fanelli said Thursday that he is not aware of any complaints of "any troubling or concerning behavior" made against the teacher during his working years.
“We still feel that we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg, and we are currently speaking to five other individuals who have contacted our office with complaints,” O’Brien said. “We feel the district had to have some idea what was going on, and for some reason, turned a blind eye.”
In an interview, one of the alleged victims told The News he was 11 when Werner molested him “at least six times” in the early 1970s. He said other students witnessed most of the molestations.
The former Ken-Ton student alleged that Werner “would call you up to the front of his classroom, on the pretense of disciplining you for something.”
“He would put me on his lap and fondle my private parts, or he would fondle me as I stood there in front of the classroom,” the man said. “Sometimes, while he was touching you, he would whisper in your ear, ‘I’m sorry I yelled at you, I’m sorry I punished you, I apologize.’ ”
The man said he was “scarred for life” by being molested as a youngster.
The lawsuits were filed in State Supreme Court. The Erie County district attorney's office said Thursday that it has no record of Werner ever being criminally prosecuted in Erie County.
Story topics: Child Victims Act