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Ex-students say Oakland Co. teacher sexually abused them

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Novi — Seven young women came forward Wednesday with accusations that an Oakland County teacher sexually abused them while they were his students.

The women attended a news conference with their attorneys, who say they plan to sue the teacher and two school districts where abuse is alleged to have occurred. The women, along with an eighth former student who did not attend the news conference, were between 13 and 16 years old during the alleged incidents.

Former student Holly Messerschmitt (right) wipes tears with fellow student Victoria Langlois as they listen to Emmalee Forrester, who spoke about alleged sexual misconduct by a local teacher during a news conference on Wednesday, September 9, 2020, in Novi.

They said they made several complaints to administrators at Clarenceville High School, Clarenceville Middle School and Troy Athens High School between 2005 and 2018, but no action was taken. 

The teacher was placed on administrative leave Aug. 26 from his position at North Farmington High School after a former Clarenceville student alleged on Twitter that the teacher had abused her. The Detroit News is not identifying him because he has not been criminally charged.

"These women deserve their dignity back, they deserve justice and finding justice for them starts here today," attorney Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller said. "We are in the very early stages of our investigation but in order to have healing eventually we have to have the truth."

In the earliest reported incident, Esser-Weidenfeller said a faculty member and a secretary at Troy Athens High School were notified in 2005 about allegations that the teacher was having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student. Esser-Weidenfeller said authorities were not contacted, there was no internal investigation and the girl was told to keep quiet. 

Attorney Lisa Esser-Weidenfeller speaks at the press conference and represents local students who allege sexual misconduct by a local teacher.

Kerry Birmingham, a Troy schools spokeswoman, said the district was not aware of any allegations about the teacher, who she says has never worked at any of the district's schools. 

"We have immense sympathy for any victim of sexual assault, but ... the individual in question never worked for the Troy School District as a teacher or in any capacity, nor do we have any record of any student coming forward with allegations or concerns to any school official or to the District," she said in a statement.

"We are aware that he graduated from one of our high schools in 1996 and came back to participate in at least two productions as an alumnus, but he was never in a position of authority or charged with supervision of students," Birmingham said.

Emmalee Forrester speaks about her allegations of sexual misconduct by a local teacher during a news conference on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 in Novi.

Emmalee Forrester, the only one of the women who spoke at the news conference, said she was a 14-year-old freshman at Clarenceville High in 2014 when the teacher began showing her extra attention that escalated into sexual touching and remarks.

"Looking back now, this is when the grooming started, the supportive talks, the treats, the over-the-top favoritism," Forrester said. "This is how he got me as well as many others to trust him. It was like giving candy to a baby."

She said a principal and a counselor spoke with her about receiving an anonymous tip about the teacher and told they would take action. Forrester said she was not contacted by anyone after that about her allegations. 

"We're here for you when you understand that you need justice," she said tearfully. "We will no longer let anyone silence us, we are so strong. We always have been but now we're ready."  

Esser-Weidenfeller said Clarenceville school officials were also notified in 2009, 2016, 2017 and 2018 of sexual misconduct by the teacher.

On Wednesday, the district released a statement addressing its handling of Forrester's allegation.

"The District wants to make it clear that when concerns were shared during the former employee’s employment, the District promptly followed its established policies and fully investigated the concerns. To the extent that new allegations have been advanced, we are committed to fully cooperating with law enforcement to examine any such concerns from this former employee’s time with the District," the statement read.

Twitter: @arianattaylor