TRI-VALLEY DEFENDS HIRING, RETENTION OF WALES IN ANSWER TO CHILD SEX ABUSE COMPLAINT
GRAHAMSVILLE - In response to a lawsuit filed in late February under the Child Victims Act of New York State, the Tri-Valley Central School District has adamantly defended its hiring, supervision and retention of Donald Wales, the former teacher who allegedly sexually abused dozens of students in the district from 1972 through 1984.
While on criminal probation after sodomizing a student in Warwick during 1971, Wales in 1972 applied for a position at Tri-Valley. He received a written offer of employment in July 1972, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs in the suit are Jeffrey Cloonan and Sean Boyle, whose attorneys filed the suit under New York State's Child Victims Act (CVA) that took effect in August 2019.
As reported exclusively by The SullivanTimes in February, the suit alleges that: "It is believed that Wales sexually abused or had improper contact with dozens of boys who were students at Tri-Valley Elementary School."
During the 1980s, at least five of those boys settled their lawsuits with the district and Wales, according to the latest suit.
Wales told Then SullivanTimes that the settlement involved about three cases.
State Supreme Court Justice Michael L. Mackey is presiding over the case filed in Sullivan County. It is the second lawsuit filed against Tri-Valley Central School District and Wales under the CVA in as many years. The first case was filed by Mark Dolgas in 2019, also in State Supreme Court/ Sullivan.
Cloonan and Boyle allege that Wales, then an elementary school teacher, sexually abused them multiple times between 1979 and 1984 - at sites that included Wales' home, at Grossinger's and parked in a car at the Rondout Reservoir after first grooming them while in school.
The school district's April 5 answer to the complaint said:
"Plaintiffs' claims are barred to the extent that the District acted with reasonable care and followed appropriate procedures at all relevant times, including without limitation in hiring, supervising and/or retaining any employee alleged to have committed or engaged in any wrongdoing of any type, lacked the required notice of any alleged wrongdoing, did not act with deliberate indifference, and otherwise took appropriate, prompt and/or effective action in responding to any alleged complaints of any employee wrongdoing."
But, according to the current lawsuit, Wales was arrested in 1971 for sodomizing a student of Kings Elementary School and was charged with sexual misconduct. In November 1971, he was sentenced to three years probation- but was ultimately released from probation after seven months.
In an attempt to dismiss the 2021 case, Tri-Valley stated in its answer: "If Plaintiffs were caused to suffer any damages as alleged in the Complaint, then said damages were not caused by the culpable conduct on the part of the District or its agents, servants or employees, but rather they were caused solely by the culpable conduct of Defendant Donald Wales, Plaintiffs and/or third parties over whom the District has no control or legal responsibility."
Wales, 85, who lives in Florida, told The SullivanTimes on February 25:
"The Cloonans were very good friends of mine. He (Cloonan's father) was my golf partner. We played at least once a week and I had many dinners with them. Jeff was in my class in 4th grade. And I never touched him at all, sexually. And Sean Boyle, I do not know who he is."
Wales confirmed that he did remember "the name" Mark Dolgas. "I remember the name...I don't remember the person," Wales said of Dolgas.
Hugh D. Sandler, a partner with New York City law firm Krantz & Berman LLP who is representing Cloonan and Boyle, told The SullivanTimes in February:
"This lawsuit, like Mr. Dolgas’s, was brought in the hope of obtaining some level of justice for the allegations of horrifying sexual abuse that these men suffered when they were elementary school students. As alleged in the complaints, we hope to assist these brave men in holding the Tri-Valley Schools accountable for their ongoing failures which allowed for their abuse by Tri-Valley’s employee, Donald Wales.”
The suit alleges that even after parents of Tri-Valley Elementary School students complained to school officials in May 1984 that Wales had sexually abused at least two Tri-Valley Elementary School students, they did nothing.
According to the suit: "...even armed with that express declaration, no school personnel (i) reported the abuse to any state or local authority, (ii) prevented Wales in any way from continuing to have direct access to students while the complaints were being investigated, or (iii) informed any school board members or the police of these credible complaints of criminal misconduct by a teacher. 70. Instead, these school personnel - including then-Principal Thomas Arielly - gave Wales the 'heads up' that, because people in the community were talking about these complaints, board members may find out about it."
The Child Victims Act- which initially gave victims of child sex abuse of any age one year to seek justice in New York courts for abuse that occurred decades ago - was later extended until August 2021 because of Covid-19.
The CVA has resulted in hundreds of lawsuits in New York State courts, including clergy affiliated with multiple dioceses and the Boy Scouts of America (including incidents going back decades at Ten Mile River Scout Camp in Narrowsburg) - as well as other institutions and individuals.
Editor's Note: Below are excerpts from the District's answer to the complaint. In addition, since the publication of our story in February, some former students and staff took to social media to talk about their interactions with Wales.