Second Ex-Student Sues Elite California Boarding School for Decades-Old Sex Abuse

A second former student sued a Southern California private school for hiring a sexual predator who abused her.

On Wednesday, Washington resident Jennifer Christiansen Vurno sued The Thacher School in Ojai for negligence, sexual assault, and harassment.

Vurno, 44, claimed she was frequently sexually abused by a soccer coach in 1996, when she was 17, and that the school knew the coach was a predator when he was hired almost a decade earlier.

Vurno urges others to speak up

Vurno is one of scores of former Thacher students who have accused administrators, professors, and coaches of sexual assault and fostering a culture that enabled it to persist for decades.

The school was sued again by Vurno.

Also read: Why Dad Assaults Teacher Over Masks at California School, Read in Detail

The school, where students live in dormitories, claims none of the accused work there anymore and has implemented safety modifications.

Thacher’s board of trustees hired a legal firm in 2020 after multiple social media accounts made the charges.

Plausible Accusations of Misbehaviour

After months of interviewing over 120 former students, parents, educators, staff, and trustees, the school’s legal firm published a long report detailing plausible accusations of misbehaviour against six former teachers and administrators, including the coach Vurno claims targeted her.

“I turned to him for direction and care, relying totally on his abilities to assist and encourage me,” Vurno said of her former coach at a sad press conference announcing her case. “He used that trust and belief to commit the most horrific act of sexual abuse on my 17-year-old self.”

Coach abusing a student again was deemed “inconceivable” by the administrator.

Also read: A Private School In California – Where Child Abuse Remained Uncovered but Unpunished for Decades

Vurno claimed the harassment started when she went to the coach, concerned about losing a class affecting her college aspirations. She informed the school’s legal firm that he promised her it would, rubbed her back when she cried, and then caressed her breasts beneath her blouse.

Acquainted with the Coach

She alleges the attacks worsened during her senior year. Vurno claimed she didn’t report them because Thacher’s headmaster, Michael Mulligan, was acquainted with the coach.

According to the law firm’s investigation, Mulligan hired Thacher in 1987 knowing the coach had an “inappropriate connection” with a pupil.

According to the story, Mulligan found his connection with a girls’ soccer team senior while working with the coach at a Massachusetts boarding school.

Mulligan told the school about the connection, which led to the coach’s resignation in Massachusetts. However, he supported Thacher’s decision to hire him because he was a great soccer coach and it was “unthinkable” that he would make the same mistake again.

Mulligan, Thacher’s dean of students at the time, claimed then-Headmaster Bill Wyman knew about the coach’s background and “thoroughly researched the issue” before employing him. Wyman, who stood down as headmaster from the institution after separate claims of sexual misconduct, has now died.

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