OCEAN GATE – A lawsuit alleging that the superintendent sexually abused a minor was the topic of heated discussion at a recent Board of Education meeting. Parents asked how they could feel safe sending their children to school, and the board attorney answered that there have never been any charges and the lawsuit is just for money.
The suit states that in 2008, an eight-year-old summer school student was playing with her little brother. A glass cup broke, cutting her chest and her brother’s eyebrow. She had been examined by a nurse. A few days later, Superintendent Frank Vanalesti allegedly brought her into his office, closed the door, and asked her to lift up her shirt to see the cut.
A Facebook post issued a call to action for residents to come out to protest at a Board of Education meeting. About half a dozen spoke in the small room. The meeting was filmed by a resident and posted online.
“It felt like a punch in the gut,” one parent said, especially to learn about it over the summer.
“How do you expect us to send our kids to school on Sept. 4?” another asked.
The attorney for the board, Christopher Supsie, did the talking for the school officials, as is often the case when there are legal matters.
“There’s been no charges filed. There’s been no new evidence. Those allegations lacked merit,” Supsie said. “Now it’s a civil lawsuit in federal court.”
Investigators found no reason to press charges, so the plaintiff is looking to get money out of the district, the attorney said.
“A civil lawsuit is a lawsuit seeking money,” he said. The reason this is coming up now is that there has been a change in how lawsuits can be filed. The statute of limitations has been extended.
The lawsuit notes this statute as well. It mentions that the law changed in May, a month before the lawsuit was filed. The legislation extended the statute of limitations and created a two-year window for people who had been allegedly victimized prior to this year.
The Ocean Gate police, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, and the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (formerly DYFS) all investigated and there were no charges filed, Supsie said.
This newspaper filed an Open Public Records Act request with the prosecutor’s office to view any charges against Vanalesti and the request turned up empty.
Parents asked if the board had their own investigation, but Supsie said that with local, county and state investigators all coming up with the same answer, there was no need. Additionally, board of education members are not investigators and lack the training to conduct a proper investigation.
After being told that there is no proof of wrongdoing, a parent shouted “we’re supposed to swallow that?”
“I understand it’s upsetting,” Supsie said. “What would make you feel safe? I can only give you factual information.
“There are a lot of assumptions because a lawyer put something on a piece of paper,” he said.
A woman who identified herself as the vice president of the Parent Teacher Organization went to bat for the district.
“Your child is safer here than probably any other school in Ocean County,” she said. “This is a lawsuit to defame him and to get money. You’re not listening to what (the board) lawyer is telling you.”
Another parent emotionally defended the board and the superintendent. “It’s unbelievable that you would not listen to the facts. That man would give his life for these kids. This is not fair to the teachers, or the board. People are listening to Facebook and unfounded information instead of the facts right in front of them.”
The attorney for the plaintiffs, Robert Fuggi, was interviewed for this story the week after the meeting by Jersey Shore Online. He dismissed the claim that the lawsuit was only for money.
There are civil damages in this suit, but it’s due to the harm they lived with, he said. The two minor children who claim to have been sexually assaulted wouldn’t consider it to be for money only.
“These are very serious allegations,” he said.