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Bensenville school board sued by former student allegedly sexually abused by teacher

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A lawsuit filed against a Bensenville school board Wednesday alleges that a woman was repeatedly sexually assaulted as a student by a former teacher and that school officials allowed the pattern of abuse to continue for more than a decade.

The complaint, filed in federal court, alleges that the Fenton Community High School District 100 Board of Education is responsible for “permitting, enabling and empowering” the misconduct of longtime teacher and track coach Michael Berago.

Berago, 40, was fired from Fenton High School in March after a school investigation into his misconduct, according to the complaint. The lawsuit alleges the woman, named as “Survivor A” in court documents, was sexually harassed, assaulted and raped by Berago while she was a minor in 2015 and 2016.

“She’s coming forward to seek justice and to hold this institution accountable and to make sure this doesn’t happen to other children,” said lead attorney Patrick Thronson. “She felt that enough was enough. The fact that Berago could be retained in employment was immensely disturbing to her.”

The Fenton Board of Education did not immediately return a request for comment. Amid the investigation into Berago’s misconduct, Superintendent James Ongtengco was placed on administrative leave in March.

A criminal investigation into Berago is ongoing, Bensenville police said in an email.

Berago declined to comment on the lawsuit or allegations of sexual abuse.

The complaint describes a pervasive culture of silence and negligence at Fenton, where school staff were allegedly aware of Berago’s serial abuse but took no substantial action, according to the complaint. Administrators received multiple complaints about Berago’s conduct with several students in 2011, according to the lawsuit. The complaint says Berago was hired at Fenton in 2007 as a 23-year-old.

“The lawsuit details a very, extremely concerning and disturbing pattern of conduct by Fenton High School over the course of many years,” Thronson said. “Fenton High School, the lawsuit alleges, was grossly negligent in its failure to protect students from the predation of Michael Berago.”

The lawsuit states Berago began to groom “Survivor A “in the spring of 2015, when she joined the track team that he coached. He began texting her on a school-issued cellphone, and the messages soon became sexual in nature, the lawsuit says. Berago would “rape her” in his car before track practice and throughout the school day, according to the complaint.

The signs of their inappropriate relationship were “open and obvious” to other school staff, the lawsuit says.

In December 2016, the woman allegedly was summoned to a meeting with the superintendent and a school resource officer, who confronted her about Berago’s conduct, the complaint states. She was “fearful, intimidated and alone” and denied the relationship, according to the lawsuit.

The superintendent and the school resource officer never reported the meeting to the woman’s parents and did not comply with Illinois’ mandatory reporting law, the complaint says.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified dollar amount and asks the court to order the Fenton Board of Education to implement policies and procedures to prevent future abuse from staff. “I think people who have not been through that can only imagine what that’s been like,” Thronson said.

 

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