Parents of child raped by ex-teacher allege Fulton school was repeatedly warned

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

The parents of a 13-year-old girl who was raped by her science teacher at a Fulton County school in 2020 are alleging that administrators knew he was engaging in predatory behavior as early as 2019 and did nothing to stop it, according to a recently filed federal lawsuit.

Ex-teacher Robert Vandel has been convicted of the rape at Fulton Academy of Science and Technology (FAST), as well as child molestation charges in Cherokee County, where he was hired at Lyndon Academy after his firing in Fulton and went on to prey on another 13-year-old girl. He will spend the next eight years in prison and the rest of his life on probation as a sex offender.

The 65-year-old’s two-decade career as an educator included dodging multiple investigations, professional suspensions, firings and a slate of criminal charges. Despite his lengthy ethics history being public record and available to anyone who requested it, different schools continued to hire him until his September 2021 arrest for the Fulton County rape.

Now, that victim, identified only as Jane Doe II, and her parents are asking a federal judge to require Fulton County Schools administrators to take measures to ensure such a violation never happens to another student.

“FAST is a separate legal entity from the Fulton County School District. FAST creates and implements its own personnel policies and hires, vets and manages its staff independently,” a spokesperson said in a statement, adding that the district does not comment on pending litigation.

FAST’s governing board Chairman Joseph Akpan said the board is aware of the litigation “related to the reprehensible criminal acts of Robert Vandel” and denies all allegations asserted in the complaint.

“We remain deeply committed to the uncompromised safety and security of our students and staff members and this will always be a top priority at FAST,” Akpan said.

Vandel was hired at the school in 2017. Beginning as early as March 2019, several FAST teachers complained about Vandel’s inappropriate, sexually suggestive behavior toward them and female students, lawyers allege in the lawsuit. Those concerns were allegedly dismissed by school officials.

In the March complaint, a teacher emailed school administrators with concerns that Vandel was creating situations to be alone with girls and flirting with two female students who seemed to fit his apparent “type” of “young, fit girls with long hair,” according to the lawsuit.

The teacher’s concerns were met with disbelief from administrators, telling her she was “being dramatic,” and she was ultimately dismissed from her position, the lawsuit alleges. But more complaints followed.

One teacher made at least four separate reports with similar concerns over Vandel’s interactions with two female students and a young female teacher, according to the civil suit. Another teacher reported concerns over him letting female students in his classroom during recess with no other adults present the same room where Jane Doe was raped the following year.

By late 2019, a fourth teacher brought concerns to school officials after two male students reported to her on three separate occasions that Vandel was sexually harassing another female student, the lawsuit states.

The harassment was confirmed by the student. She described him as a “touchy old man,” according to the suit, who placed his hands on her back for extended periods of time and smacked her buttocks with a ruler — a complaint echoed by several students throughout Vandel’s career, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found, and part of what ultimately led to child molestation charges in Cherokee County.

But FAST administrators again dismissed those concerns in a meeting with the teacher and student, allegedly saying, “Mr. Vandel wouldn’t do that,” the lawsuit alleges.

In an attempt to support the student’s claims, the teacher shared her own experience of sexual harassment by Vandel with administrators. She said she’d been trying to fix a copier when Vandel, in front of students, told her, “If she kept bending over like that he was going to have to do something about it,” the lawsuit states.

That student was eventually withdrawn from the school when her parents learned of the meeting, of which they hadn’t been made aware beforehand, according to the lawsuit.

On January 17, 2020, the girl’s parents emailed FAST’s governing board members letting them know they withdrew their daughter because they were dissatisfied with the school’s response to the allegations, the suit states. The board told the family they would investigate and follow up at the conclusion, but no follow-up came.

Jane Doe was raped later that spring.

Vandel was fired and went on to teach at Lyndon Academy, where he continued his pattern of grooming young girls, according to at least five lawsuits filed against the academy ahead of his conviction for molesting one of them.

“We have been advised to not comment on an open case,” the school’s headmaster, Linda Murdock, told the AJC.

Plaintiffs in all six cases are asking for an unspecified amount in damages.