School sued over teen’s sexual abuse

By David Hanners,

The parents of a teenage girl who was sexually abused by her high school track and volleyball coach have sued the teacher and the school district, claiming school officials were negligent.

A lawyer representing the family said it appears other teachers at Montgomery-Lonsdale High School in Montgomery may have known the coach was behaving inappropriately with the girl and other students, but did nothing to stop it.

“This guy abused several children down there over a couple-year period of time, most of it preceding the abuse of this child,” said St. Paul lawyer Patrick Noaker. “I have information that other teachers became aware of his activities with these girls and stood by and did nothing. This is a very serious case, and this was a very dangerous man.”

In January, a state judge berated the coach, Troy Michael Bernard, 36, before sentencing him to 12 years in prison. Bernard, of Montgomery, had pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct. The soonest he can be considered for supervised release is January 2016.

Although officials have said they are investigating other possible instances of abuse, the crime Bernard was sentenced for involved a teen who used to attend Montgomery-Lonsdale, about 40 miles southwest of St. Paul.

Bernard had taught the girl in fourth grade and coached her on the high school track and volleyball teams.

He pleaded guilty to having sex with her on several occasions over a 10-month period from July 2006, when she was 14, to last May, when she was 15. All of the encounters took place at his home except for the final one, in a utility closet at the school, according to the criminal complaint. Corey Lunn, named superintendent of Montgomery-Lonsdale Public Schools last July, referred calls to the lawyer representing the district’s insurance company, who did not immediately return calls for comment.

But in an answer filed to the parents’ civil suit, the district denied it had acted negligently. It claimed that officials in the district had no knowledge of Bernard’s activities until charges were filed against him.

“Indeed, the minor plaintiff and Bernard took steps to conceal their relationship,” the district said in its answer. “This defendant denies that it had constructive or actual knowledge of Bernard’s alleged exploitive propensities as a sexual abuser.”

The suit, originally filed in state court, was moved Tuesday to U.S. District Court in Minneapolis at the school district’s request. A couple of the issues raised by the suit are federal, including alleged violations of Title IX prohibitions against sexual harassment.

In the suit, the parents are identified as “Father Doe 112 and Mother Doe 112 on behalf of the minor Jane Doe 112.” Because Montgomery is small ? population 4,749 ? naming the parents would immediately identify the daughter, Noaker said.

“This girl hasn’t been able to go back to school. She’s been out of school this whole year,” Noaker said. “She’s getting some help. Our goal here is that she gets better, and therapy is going to be required for that.”

Bernard had taught in the school district for eight years. He was licensed to teach grade school, and mild- to moderately mentally handicapped students in kindergarten through 12th grade. He also had a coaching license for grades 7-12.

The criminal complaint, filed last June in LeSueur County, said child-protective officials began investigating Bernard after hearing rumors that he had been having sex with the teen. The girl’s mother told a sheriff’s deputy that she had found sexually suggestive text messages on her daughter’s phone, from Bernard


The mother confronted her daughter, who initially denied anything inappropriate ? she claimed she had been over at Bernard’s house feeding his dog ? but she eventually told her mother about the relationship.