Ex-student, his mother file sexual abuse lawsuit against Governor French, headmaster

News-DemocratDecember 5, 2013 

— A peck on the cheek of a 16-year-old male student more than two years ago by Governor French Academy Headmaster Phil Paeltz is the basis for a sexual abuse lawsuit filed Thursday in St. Clair County Court.

The lawsuit was filed under the fictitious names of John Doe, who is now 18, and his mother Mary Doe by their attorney Matthew Marlen of Belleville. The lawsuit is seeking in excess of $400,000.

Eric Rhein, the attorney representing Governor French, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit Thursday.

"We absolutely deny the charges," Paeltz said. "Governor French is not only a place that loves children, but it honors children."

The lawsuit also alleges Paeltz purposely would position himself behind the student, John Doe, "such that when he leaned back in his seat with his hands on his head would come into contact with Paeltz' groin region."

The lawsuit was amended to include the allegation.

"What happened was that when they discovered that we didn't blanch at the fact they claimed the other allegations, they added another," Paeltz said. "It's absolutely untrue. Not only is it absolutely untrue, it's silly."

Paeltz, in an interview with the News-Democrat, admitted he kissed the male student on the cheek, but said the student chose a peck on the cheek in front of his classmates over a two-day suspension back in 2011.

The student allegedly behaved inappropriately when he kissed a male and a female student without their permission while in a class, Paeltz said. The student was sent to "the bench," where students who misbehave sit and wait to be disciplined.

The lawsuit alleges Paeltz' actions were done "without the consent and/or prior knowledge of John Doe or his parents."

After several more months of inappropriate conduct, Paeltz said the student was expelled from Governor French on Dec. 6, 2011, for a "series of infractions."

Now more than two years after the peck on the cheek, Paeltz, an Air Force veteran, said he is "particularly ticked off" the suit alleges the former student now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Marlen said he hopes "Governor French is more forthcoming during litigation than it was prior to the lawsuit being filed."

The lawsuit alleges Paeltz' misconduct occurred in December 2011, but Paeltz said he kissed the student on the cheek in September 2011, which is one of the grounds for dismissal. The statute of limitations for personal injury claims is two years, according to the dismissal filed by Rhein.

"My view is they are trying to wrestle out of the money they owe us by creating a scandal through the media," Paeltz said.

Governor French Academy, 219 W. Main St. in Belleville, is currently in a court battle with the family over tuition still owed and the cost of attorney fees, Paeltz said.

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 618-239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.