A teacher fired in connection with the Jewish educator Stanley Rosenfeld’s abuse of children at an Orthodox school in the 1970s is suing the school and claiming wrongful termination.
Rabbi Sheldon Schwartz, a 45-year veteran of SAR Academy in the Bronx, alleges that the school has not followed its own procedures in firing him, a tenured teacher. The school has not specified why it dismissed him — only that it could not offer him employment based on information it had learned from its investigation into Rosenfeld’s abuse.
But Schwartz says he “categorically” denies having known about any misconduct by Rosenfeld. In his suit against SAR, Schwartz is seeking damages — and to return to his old job. He feels that he is being “made a scapegoat” for the three New York City-area schools that employed Rosenfeld, and whose students Rosenfeld preyed on.
“I wasn’t the only one he fooled,” he told the Forward. “But I’m the only one they’re gonna pin now, because SAR needs to cleanse its soul.”
On Friday morning, SAR published the result of an external investigation it had commissioned into Rosenfeld’s misconduct at the school. The report detailed four accounts of former SAR students who accused Schwartz of inappropriate behavior, including hugging and impromptu wrestling matches Schwartz set up among the students and between the students and him. Schwartz’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the allegations.
Schwartz received tenure in 1980, and his lawsuit includes a copy of a tenure agreement from 1978, which describes the process for firing a tenured teacher.
According to the agreement, tenured teachers may be suspended, but are entitled to a “discharge hearing” within 30 days of the suspension before they can be removed from the payroll. The agreement also states that suspended teachers “shall be given a bill of particulars of the claims” against them, are entitled to a hearing before the school’s executive committee, and can appeal the committee’s decision through arbitration.
None of these things happened in Schwartz’ case, according to the lawsuit, which was filed September 5 in New York State Supreme Court.
SAR first notified its community that it had received an allegation of sexual abuse against Rosenfeld in January of this year. The day after that email went out, SAR’s principal, Rabbi Binyamin Krauss, contacted Schwartz and placed him on suspension, citing “poor judgement.”
At the time Schwartz was suspended, SAR was aware of at least two allegations about abuse committed by Rosenfeld that mentioned Schwartz as well. One former student had told the school in December 2017 that he suspected that Schwartz knew about Rosenfeld’s abuse, because Schwartz was present at multiple sleepovers at Rosenfeld’s apartment where children were molested. Another former student told the school in January that Schwartz had ignored his accusation of molestation against Rosenfeld.
SAR fired Schwartz on August 9, a few weeks before the start of the school year.
“From our perspective, they refused to engage in meaningful settlement discussions, so we filed a lawsuit,” Schwartz’s lawyer, Raymond Nardo, said. In addition to reinstatement, the suit seeks Schwartz’ back pay and fees.
Schwartz’ tenure letter noted that Schwartz received praise from SAR board members, parents and students during the tenure evaluation process.
“We view the granting of tenure as one way of saying thank you to a superior teacher,” Rabbi Charles Sheer, a long-time board member and trustee of the school, wrote in that letter.
Besides insisting that he did not know about Rosenfeld’s abuse of children, Schwartz asked why other leaders at the school have yet to face any consequences for Rosenfeld’s firing. Schwartz highlighted the fact that Rosenfeld left the school in the late 1970s, before being re-hired as an English teacher for one year in the 1980s.
“A few people at the outset said, ‘You’re being screwed.’ And they were right,” Schwartz said. “If you’re looking for victims, we’re the victims now.”