More boarding school alumni report sex abuse by teacher

More former students from a northwest Georgia boarding school are coming forward to report they were sexually abused in the 1970s and 1980s.

As many as eight additional alumni of the Darlington School in Rome are expected to join a lawsuit against the school, a former teacher and two other men. Already, the suit contains allegations from nine other former students and the estate of a tenth.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last month that Darlington officials did nothing about complaints that English teacher Roger Stifflemire molested male students. At least two students complained about Stifflemire in the 1970s and the mother of another reported him to a school administrator in the 1980s. The lawsuit indicates others also told administrators about being molested.

Roger Stifflemire, a long-time Darlington School teacher, in an image from a 1970s-era yearbook. "He was so sweet to you," one student wrote to another.

Stifflemire taught at Darlington from 1974 to 1994. The school has no record of disciplinary action against Stifflemire, according to Darlington officials, and administrators even invited him back in 2002 for a ceremony honoring him as a “memorable” teacher.

Now 76 years old and retired in Alabama, Stifflemire has not responded to numerous requests for an interview. Darlington’s current administration hired a law firm to investigate the school’s handling of the abuse reports involving the former teacher. Officials sent a letter to thousands of alumni in May seeking information on inappropriate sexual activity.

How many alumni have responded to the school is not known. But Darren Penn, an Atlanta attorney representing former students, said he is likely to add six to eight others to the lawsuit within the next few weeks. All are men now in their 40s and 50s. Most said they kept the abuse quiet for decades.

Several women who attended Darlington during the same time also contacted Penn with their own stories of sexual misconduct.

“It wasn’t just boys getting abused,” said Penn, who is handling the case with Los Angeles attorney Paul Mones. “There were girls who were abused and the administration knew about it and didn’t do anything.”

The suit was filed just before a special extension of the statute of limitations expired on June 30. The extension, granted by lawmakers through the Hidden Predator Act, seems to allow suits only against perpetrators of abuse, not against institutions that may have shielded them. But the suit will test that interpretation of the law.

Darlington and the other defendants must file an answer to the lawsuit by early September.

The school says it has turned over information from its own investigation to law enforcement authorities. But the statute for limitations for criminal charges expired years ago.

Click here to read the AJC's investigation of how the school responded to reports of sexual abuse:

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