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Former Ashtabula teacher, school district sued over decades-old sexual misconduct allegations

A photo illustration of the first page of the civil suit filed against Ashtabula Area City Schools and a former teacher.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
A photo illustration of the first page of the civil suit filed against Ashtabula Area City Schools and a former teacher.

A civil lawsuit filed today in federal court accuses a former Ashtabula Area City Schools teacher of sexual assault, grooming and other misconduct with a group of students between 1986 and 1990, and alleges the school district knew but failed to stop her.

Christine Seuffert, a former teacher who became a member of the Board of Education, resigned from the board last year, several months after the conclusion of a criminal investigation by Ashtabula County Prosecutor Colleen O’Toole into the decades old incidents. O’Toole declined to file criminal charges against Seuffert since the alleged misconduct was past the statute of limitations.

The suit, filed in federal court in Northern Ohio by six former Ashtabula Area City Schools high school students, alleges their federal rights under Title IX were violated. Title IX is a federal law that prohibits gender-based discrimination in schools. The suit claims Seuffert supplied underage students (who were listed as under the age of 18 in the lawsuit) with alcohol on multiple occasions to gain their trust; sexually harassed and abused them; and groomed one female student for an “inappropriate sexual relationship” with Seuffert that continued for years.

The school district, meanwhile, was reportedly made aware of Seuffert’s actions on multiple occasions, but never intervened to protect the students, and even retaliated against them, the suit alleges.

“Ashtabula High School’s head boys' basketball coach heard allegations/rumors that Seuffert was providing alcohol and sex to high school students, including several of his players … The head coach threatened to suspend the players from the team if the allegations/rumors were true,” the suit reads, noting the assistant boys’ basketball coach reacted similarly.

An attorney who previously represented Seuffert said Tuesday she declined to comment on the suit being filed.

Ashtabula’s Interim Superintendent John M. Rubesich in a statement Tuesday declined to comment directly on the lawsuit but did provide a timeline of recent events related to Seuffert. It notes:

  • In 2021, the board received an anonymous letter alleging misconduct by Seuffert. Upon receiving the letter, the board contracted with an external firm to investigate. The suit notes the allegations against Seuffert became public after the letter was publicized.
  • In January 2022, the board contacted the Ashtabula County Sheriff’s Office once the investigation was complete. The board “fully cooperated” with that investigation.
  • In March 2022 the sheriff’s office concluded its investigation and transmitted those findings to the county prosecutor’s office.
  • The prosecutor’s office determined charges would not be filed in April 2022, and Seuffert resigned from her elected board position in July 2022.

“The District will continue to cooperate fully with the legal process and will take all actions necessary to protect the interests of the District’s students,” Rubesich said.

The suit was filed by five men and one woman – including Sean Allgood, the enrollment officer for Ashtabula Area City School District. Allgood has told the Ashtabula Star Beacon that he was worried he would lose his job by speaking out, but said he needed to come forward because he’s felt burdened his entire life by what Seuffert allegedly did.

The suit goes into significant detail about how Seuffert built trust with Shelley Chapman, the lone female complainant named in the suit, throughout Chapman’s high school career during difficult times in her life.

“Seuffert used her position of power over Chapman to earn her trust, and then exploited and coerced her into a sexual relationship,” the suit reads

Chapman’s parents allegedly alerted the district to Seuffert’s conduct with Chapman, but nothing was done. The suit argues Chapman and the other plaintiffs have undergone decades of struggles with addiction and mental health issues due to Seuffert’s alleged misconduct and the district's failure to help them.

“For years, Chapman was unable to establish meaningful relationships, both platonically and romantically, as she questioned her sexuality, others’ motives for attempting to enter into relationships with her, and her ability to trust others,” the suit reads.

Ideastream Public Media's policy is not to name alleged victims of sexual assault, but Allgood has gone on record as wanting to speak out about his experiences. An attorney representing Chapman told Ideastream Tuesday she felt the same way. Each of the the plaintiffs were named in the suit, which was filed publicly.

The suit has makes a number of claims against Seuffert and the school district, including violation of Title IX rights by both parties, infliction of emotional distress and alleged sexual battery and sexual imposition by Seuffert. The suit seeks financial damages and a statement affirming that the defendants' actions violated the law. Ten other people listed only as "John Doe" are listed as defendants in the suit.

Conor Morris is the education reporter for Ideastream Public Media.