GLENDALE, Wis. — Two former students who say they were sexually molested by a former Nicolet High School teacher are suing the school's board for allegedly covering up sexual abuse.
David Johnson, who taught math at the school for more than 30 years, died by suicide in 2018.
His death came shortly after school officials announced they confirmed he had assaulted at least two students; a number of other former students then said Johnson had also assaulted them.
Now two former students, identified in a federal civil lawsuit, are demanding a jury trial against the Nicolet Unified School District, the high school and members of the school board at the time of the accusations. TMJ4 News is not naming the plaintiffs unless they allow us to do so.
The 65-page lawsuit details how Johnson used his status as a prominent teacher at Nicolet High School to groom and manipulated young boys for his "twisted entertainment."
Johnson was considered a star teacher for Nicolet and was given leadership positions in extra-curricular groups. The complaint alleges Johnson used his status in a magic club and in other extra-curricular groups to interact with dozens of students on a personal level.
According to the complaint, the victims attended the school in the late 70s and early 80s. The two plaintiffs allege they were abused by Johnson at his apartment where he would conduct experiments on "physiology" for a "research project." The experiments quickly turned sexual in nature, according to the complaint.
Between 1979 and 1983, the two plaintiffs say they told teachers about the abuse. One teacher allegedly said they would see what they could do, but nothing happened to Johnson.
In another instance, during the spring of 1983, the plaintiff confided in a consumer economics teacher about the "weird experiments" Johnson was conducting. The complaint says the teacher's jaw dropped open, realizing the rumors that faculty gossiped about Johnson were true. However, the teacher was unable to alert her superiors.
Instead, the complaint says the teacher's husband contacted the Glendale Police Department to report the incident but the police said it "was a school issue" so Nicolet was the one to handle the issue.
The complaint says the teacher was approached by Dr. James Reiels, a former administrator in the district. According to the complaint, Reiels "very clearly told the teacher that it was important for her to understand that Johnson is bright and that her accusations of sexual abuse would ruin Johnson's reputation, and she was instructed not to discuss the matter further."
On July 13, 1983, the school board held a closed-door meeting about Johnson's alleged transgressions. The complaint says the board agreed, Johnson could maintain his employment under certain, undisclosed conditions. Months later, Johnson flew to Washington D.C. to be recognized with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching.
The complaint argues board members and staff did nothing about the accusations and even helped cover them up. The complaint says, "Nicolet was more concerned with their reputation and the reputation of their star teacher than the children they were obligated to protect."
The victims say the emotional trauma and mental injuries they suffered at the time are not over. They said they hope the lawsuit will "finally be able to hold accountable those who were ultimately responsible for the years of abuse perpetrated by David Johnson and his enablers at Nicolet."
According to the lawsuit:
"The School breached the duty of trust that society demands for the protection of children, and, as a result, tormented and ruined the lives of the Plaintiffs. While Johnson’s abuse of the Plaintiffs started in the 1980s, the extent of the Plaintiffs’ injuries and the concealment and cover-up was not fully known to them until now. As is the case with many sexual assault survivors, years of physical and mental abuse has had lasting impacts on the Plaintiffs that have only now been fully discovered through intensive therapy and help from friends, family, and other survivors of Johnson’s abuse."
Greg Kabara, Superintendent of Nicolet Union High School District, provided TMJ4 News with the following statement Tuesday: