Emotional scars remain, troubled parents agree

October 16, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

The parents of five teen-age girls who filed a multimillion-dollar sexual harassment suit against a former Harford County teacher say they are sad, angry and confused about their unsuspecting adolescent daughters allegedly being taken advantage of by an instructor they liked and respected.

In an interview in their lawyer's office, they said there were no obvious physical attacks on the girls, but the emotional aftermath has left all of them shaken.

"Does it take rape for officials to sit up and take notice?" said Philip N. Tirabassi, their attorney.

The parents agreed to talk to The Sun about what they say happened to their daughters at Magnolia Middle School in September and October 1993, when Richard N. Banz was their social studies teacher.

The three mothers and three fathers asked for anonymity to protect their children on the eve of their $130 million civil lawsuit, filed Thursday in Harford County Circuit Court. The suit claims assault and sexual harassment by Mr. Banz, and claims negligence and educational malpractice by county school officials.

The alleged abuse by the teacher, one father said quietly, "was demeaning to the girls. He's abused our children's trust."

"They all liked the teacher," a mother said.

Mr. Banz, who has since left the Harford County school system, was a popular teacher whom the parents say was personable and friendly.

Mr. Banz had received commendations from both Baltimore County and Harford County.

He also was a pervert, the parents claim. They said the then-26-year-old teacher looked down the girls' blouses to view their breasts, put paper in their hair so he could brush it out, and even made one girl climb provocatively through a window.

"He was looking at my butt," one of the teen-agers told her mother.

"They instinctively knew something was wrong, but were trusting," a father said. "They liked the guy. They were not expecting [him] to do something wrong."

"It took my daughter a long time to believe he was not her friend," another father said.

Mr. Banz had the girls make coffee for him and would take them out of other classes to work one-on-one with him, the parents said. The "work" often involved games in his classroom.

A mother described one incident involving her daughter in which, she said, "He pulled her out of gym class, supposedly to draw flags for a project. He made her sit on a high stool so she could bend over. She told him it was uncomfortable. He looked down her shirt. He told her to move her hair out of the way. She knew she was being used."

Mr. Banz often made the girls take what he called "IQ tests," the parents said. Most of the time, the parents said, the girls being "tested" traced the shape of their hands on a piece of paper with their eyes closed, while leaning over the teacher's desk.

The parents said Mr. Banz told one student to take off her sweat shirt and use it as a blindfold and that's when they learned what was going on.

"She came home in the evening," the girl's mother said. "She was acting really funny. . . . She said, 'I need to tell you something.' She started to cry."

The girl's parents called other parents that night. It was Oct. 26.

The girls learned about each other's involvement with Mr. Banz through conversations at school, parents said. "He told them they were in his 'Cute But Dumb' club," a father said.

Only two of the girls had been in the same class. They hardly knew each other. But they all told the same story.

Most of the parents also had not met before the allegations surfaced.

They approached school officials the next morning to voice their concerns. Mr. Banz was suspended with pay that day pending an investigation by Protective Services, a division of the county's Department of Social Services, and the Harford County Child Advocacy Center.

Investigators concluded that the teacher's alleged behavior may have been "inappropriate" but not illegal, and no criminal charges were filed. Mr. Banz resigned in February.

The parents are still bitter that he was not criminally charged. "There is a moral law," a father said.

Since then, the five families lives' have become intertwined. Their children have been in counseling.

One girl attempted suicide in May by taking an overdose of prescription medicine, her mother said, and she did not return to school because it was too painful for her.

"They felt they did something wrong," a father said of the girls.

Now, the parents worry about the future. They've watched their children turn from "very outgoing, bubbly" children into emotionally drained teens with nightmares, anger and slipping grades.

"She has a very unhealthy attitude toward males in general," one mother said of her child.

One father said his daughter now wears "three layers" of clothes.

The girls are in high school now, and one has moved away because a parent was transferred to a new job. The parents know the lawsuit will add to their daughters' wounds.

"It's putting the kids through more pain. But what's our recourse?" a father said.

According to one parent: "We're not in this for a get-rich scheme. It's for our kids, and for future kids."

They also hope that Mr. Banz will never be able to teach again.

Attempts to reach the former teacher were unsuccessful. The Sun learned that he is working on a master's degree in history at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

The Harford school system declined to comment on the allegations. School officials will answer the claims in court, a spokesman said.

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