Former students sue Lake Bluff Elementary School District in alleged abuse case

LAKE BLUFF, Ill. (WLS) -- The Lake Bluff Elementary school district is now being sued by former students who claim school officials knew their teacher was abusing boys and allowed him to resign.

The I-Team first reported the claims of two of the alleged victims of Charles Ritz, who pled guilty to a public indecency charge last summer.

"We want an apology. That's not something we learned in junior high, that's something we learned in grade school," said John Bollman, a sexual assault survivor and plaintiff. "When you do something wrong, you apologize for it. We've been unable to get the apology we deserve."

An apology for what John Bollman says happened when he was 12 years old, when his math teacher and coach Charles Ritz allegedly molested him. He was a student at what was then Lake Bluff Junior High.

Thursday, Bollman and Joey Lombardi, another student under Ritz, sued Lake Bluff Elementary School District 65.

"They've told us they have policies and procedures that will prevent this from happening again," Bollman said. "As a victim who came forward, I didn't see those policies and procedures. I saw an institution protecting itself. And that is wrong."

"They are hoping if they wait long enough...this abuse will just disappear. I don't see them being pro-active about the children. I'm worried about the children today," Lombardi added.

So Thursday, attorneys filed five lawsuits alleging Lake Bluff Elementary School District 65 "turned a blind eye" to Ritz's inappropriate sexual conduct with students. The lawsuits also allege that "teachers, administrators, and school board members knew" at the time.

"The school district did nothing about it," said Marc Pearlman, the plaintiffs' attorney. "They continued to hide and conceal Charles Ritz and not warn the public or the students or their parents."

Thursday afternoon the school district responded, saying in part: "While the Lake Bluff School District 65 Board remains saddened by the painful events of over 30 years ago as described by these individuals, to fulfill our duty as fiduciaries on behalf of the District's taxpayers, we will defend these claims in court and not in the public domain."

The I-Team began investigating Ritz in fall of 2016. He pleaded guilty last year, admitting public indecency and that he exposed himself to students in 1985. He is not listed as a defendant in Thursday's lawsuits, and each lawsuit asks for at least a $50,000 judgment. The victims emphasize it's not about the money.

"I'm the biggest cynic there is when I see people come forward and say it's not about the money. I'm the first to shake my head and say, 'It probably is,'" Bollman said. "I can assure you and everyone in this room, this all could have been settled for an 'I'm sorry.' All settled."

The school district says it has a comprehensive system of policies and procedures to help keep students safe, and that they're reviewed annually and implemented rigorously.
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