An Essex County Superior Court judge has ruled that the parents of a prep school student cannot file a lawsuit against the school for involvement in their child’s underage sexual relationship with a teacher. Judge Thomas Vena stated that Harry and Gina Zelnick, the parents of S.Z., cannot hold the Morristown-Beard School accountable in their daughter’s relationship with Edward Sherman, the teacher at the school.
According to the ruling, S.Z. is the only person who has grounds to file a lawsuit against the school and she has decided not to take action. She is now over 18 and has since moved to Israel to pursue her relationship with Sherman.
Beginning in May 2010, rumors involving Sherman and Zelnick circulated around the school. Sherman was frequently reported to be engaged in inappropriate hugs and embraces with a female student, and during a class trip in 2011, Sherman chaperoned a group of students, including S.Z. S.Z. claimed to be sick and stayed in Greece with Sherman while the rest of her classmates traveled to Turkey.
The school has a strict policy about opposite-sex chaperones caring for students who fall ill during school trips, but Sherman was allowed to stay with S.Z. per her parents’ approval. At the time, they had no idea their daughter was in a relationship with Sherman. After the trip, allegations of Sherman’s inappropriate sexual relationship with a minor launched an investigation by the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office and the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency.
Sherman left the country and went to Israel to avoid the investigation. S.Z. finished high school, but was not allowed to attend the school’s graduation ceremony. She moved to Israel to be with Sherman immediately afterwards and has not filed any legal action against her school. Because S.Z. is not pursuing a case against the school, Judge Vena ruled that her parents cannot file their own claim.
Those who disagree with the judge’s decision have pointed out that parents send their children to private schools to ensure they will receive their education in a safe place. Private schools are costly and they involve a great deal more parental involvement and regulation than the average public school, but these sacrifices are a trade-off for a higher education standard and learning environment.
In this case, the Zelnicks’ lawsuit specifically named the school as negligent for failing to provide “a safe learning environment” and accused the school of breaching their contract.
Teen relationships are tricky in the best of circumstances, and when one involves a trusted authority figure, the legal ramifications can be extremely complex. The school’s accountability in this case cannot be extended to include them in legal action, and their actions did not violate the contract that the Zelnicks signed when S.Z. was enrolled.
For more information on responsibility and accountability in cases involving minor-teacher relationships, contact a New Jersey sexual assault lawyer at Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, today.