Lawsuit: Lake Bluff school officials ignored sex abuse by former teacher

LAKE BLUFF (Sun-Times Media Wire) - John Bollman was on a flight to Texas in May 2016 when he noticed a post in his Facebook feed by a fellow Lake Bluff Junior High School graduate sharing a funny memory about their former teacher, Charles Ritz.

But Bollman didn’t find it humorous: The teacher was a pedophile, and he said so in a reply.

On Thursday, Bollman and his attorneys announced they were filing five civil lawsuits in Lake County against School District 65 on behalf of Bollman and four other students who said they were abused by Ritz.

“I always thought what happened to me was isolated,” Bollman said.

Despite rumors of Ritz’s abuse of students, the district did nothing to stop the abuse and even concealed it, according to the lawsuits.

“While the Lake Bluff School District 65 Board remains saddened by the painful events of over 30 years ago as described by these individuals … we will defend these claims in court and not in the public domain,” the district said in a statement.

In 1981, Bollman was a 12-year-old in seventh grade when he was invited to his first party at a home where Ritz was housesitting, according to the suit filed in Lake County Circuit Court.

“Ritz was well known in the community and would often housesit for people,” attorney Marc Pearlman said. “He would host parties at them for the kids. He seemed cool.”

At the party, Ritz gave Bollman alcohol and marijuana, and later took Bollman and other boys upstairs to watch pornography and masturbate. Ritz also showed Bollman pornography in the school’s library and abused him on several overnight trips when they shared a hotel room, according to his suit.

Bollman and others who were abused also recalled on occasion “seeing a pill or pill residue” in drinks they were given by Ritz. Afterward, they would pass out and not be able to recall the night’s events.

The lawsuits accuse district officials of ignoring information as early as 1978 that Ritz was abusing students, of failing to warn parents, and of intentionally inflicting emotional abuse.

Ritz was allowed to “quietly resign” in 1985 and was paid more than $22,000, the lawsuits say. He would go on to teach in southern California.

“They allowed him to go on to another community and do this to who knows how many others,” Bollman said.

Shortly after responding to the Facebook post, Bollman began a group to locate others who had been abused, he said. They worked with authorities to get charges filed against Ritz in May 2017.

Ritz pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of indecency in August that year and was sentenced to 2 years of probation. He is forbidden from having unsupervised contact with minors.

Each lawsuit seeks more than $50,000.

Two are filed anonymously and a third is filed by the family of Edward Higginson, who committed suicide in 2015 after confiding with his family about the abuse. The fourth is filed by Joseph Lombardi, who says he was abused by Ritz in 1984.

“Every step of the way, [the district] would say they were still looking into the matter and not give us any information,” Bollman said of trying to work with school officials. “It became clear their only interest was protecting themselves.

“I would like an apology and also to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

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