Family Files Lawsuit Against Lyme-Old Lyme Board of Education, Superintendent and Principal

Credit: Robin Breeding


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LYME-OLD LYME — The family of a local high school student has filed a lawsuit against the Board of Education and two school officials alleging that their son was wrongly accused and arrested for remarks made during a school safety drill, which has resulted in continuing harm to the student both emotionally and socially. 

Jean Goldberg, the mother of the high school student, filed the case in New London Superior Court on Feb. 6 against Regional School District 18 Board of Education, Ian Neviaser, superintendent, and James Wygonik, principal of Lyme-Old Lyme High School.

The complaint includes six claims, including negligence by the Board of Education, Neviaser and Wygonik for an incident on May 8, 2023 during a safety drill when a student allegedly made a comment to the plaintiff that “when the whole school gathered on the turf field as part of a safety drill that something was likely to happen in terms of a school shooting.”

In an email to the Board of Education dated Sept. 1, 2023, Goldberg offered an account of the incident.

“On May 8th, 2023, Mr. Wygonik called me and asked me to come to the school. He said that the state police were on their way and that [my son] made threats to shoot up the school during lockdown on May 9th. When I arrived at the school, [my son] was sitting in the conference room with 2 old Lyme police officers, a state trooper, and my husband. We were informed that Ms. Rahr emailed Mr. Wygonik that she overheard [my son] say that the lockdown would be a good time to shoot up the school,” she wrote.

Goldberg said her son was charged with breach of peace and the family was told he would get community service and probation and be placed on a nationwide ban so he could not buy any firearms. She wrote that background checks had already been done on her and her husband and that her son was not allowed in school the day of the lockdown. 

“[My son] asked Mr. Wygonik and the police if he was the only student being charged, and they told him yes because he was the only name they received. My son left for the library and immediately started texting me that it was not him who said it, it was his friend. When his friend found out what happened, he immediately went with my son to talk to Mr. Wygonik. They together told him that the teacher was going over the drill. She said the whole school would exit the building and stand on the turf field. My son felt that this was unsafe to put the entire school in one large group, but he did not threaten the school. His friend told Mr. Wygonik that my son didn’t say anything, it was me. Mr. Wygonik told the boys that it was too late because they already charged my son,” Goldberg wrote. 

The lawsuit alleges that a teacher, Lauren Rahr, had overheard the comment and reported that student and the plaintiff to Wygonik, who reported the incident to Neviaser, after which Wygonik advised the teacher that he would “talk with the boys.”

“Instead, while at lunch in the school cafeteria, in front of the majority of the high school student body, the Plaintiff was removed from the cafeteria by school officials with two police officers present… The Plaintiff was arrested by the police and charged with breach of peace as a result of the alleged comments made during study hall that were made by the other student,” according to the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, “upon best information and belief,” the other student was never spoken to by Neviaser, Wygonik, other school officials, or the police, nor was arrested or charged with crimes. 

The suit further alleges that Wygonik and Neviaser “coordinated the Plaintiff’s arrest by the police.” 

In her email, Goldberg said that her son told her there was going to be a meeting with Wygonik, Assistant Principal Jeanne Manfredi, Rahr, her son and the other student on Thursday during study hall, but when she arrived there was no meeting. Instead Wygonik pulled Manfredi out of a meeting and they both said “that the boys could not talk to the teacher and that it was a police matter now.”

“I asked to see the school threat policy, but Mr. Wygonik said that he was not aware of any. He just received the email from the teacher and immediately sent it to Mr. Neviaser. He told me that Mr. Neviaser instructed him to immediately call the police. I again asked for the policy but was told that he didn’t think there was one and it didn’t matter because he follows his own practice. I asked if he called the police to inform them that the other boy stated that it was not my son, it was him. He said no because he handed it to the police and then it is their case. I asked even if you have new information or evidence and he said no, it was out of his hands. He told my son not to worry, it is not a big deal and will just blow over and everyone will forget about it. However, they removed my son from the cafeteria in front of all his friends while 2 police officers waited by the door for him. He immediately started getting texts from kids asking if they were ‘on his hit list.'”

Goldberg said she informed her son that it was a big deal and that the family had to hire a criminal attorney. She said her son asked to switch out of Ms. Rahr’s class, and Mr. Wygonik again told him that Ms. Rahr “doesn’t think he is a threat, and everyone knows he is a great kid.” 

In the lawsuit, the parents say they have had to “expend resources defending the plaintiff against criminal charges that were dropped by the prosecutor.” 

“After hiring a criminal attorney and many meetings over the course of 6 weeks, the charges were dropped when the prosecutor gathered the information and realized that it was not my son,” Goldberg wrote. 

She also said that she had requested emails between staff regarding the incident through the Freedom of Information Act, that included an email from Rahr naming her son. 

“Hi All, Happy Monday (smiling emoji), Just wanted to make sure that you were both aware that during my safety drill talk with my study hall [Goldberg’s son] and (another student) commented that the safety drill would be a great time to shoot up the school’”. (This study hall took place 6 days before.),” Goldberg quoted.

She said that Wygonik emailed Rahr that “he would have a chat with the boys” and that Mr. Wygonik then forwarded the email to Mr. Turner and Mr. Neviaser and added, “Please see the email below. Any suggestions on how to talk to these kids today? Would either of you like to join me to help send a message? Note the last name of one of the students…”

Goldberg wrote that those were the only emails she received and she was “not sure how it escalated to calling the police and only my son being charged. 

“No one talked with [my son] or the other student. I should also tell you that I did not receive any documentation of a student discipline form nor was it documented on his log entry for any behavior discipline. I intend to reach out to the Ct. Department of Education to make sure that it was filed in accordance with state and federal law.”

The suit also alleges that the defendants permitted school officials “to tell other students that the Plaintiff threatened to shoot up the school, which has resulted in other students contacting the Plaintiff asking if they are on his ‘hit list.’” 

The lawsuit claims “negligence” and “carelessness” that resulted in ongoing emotional distress including “anxiety and embarrassment at the same school where [the plaintiff] must attend where he was arrested, and students were told he was going to shoot up the school” as well as damage to his reputation.

In separate claims, Neviaser and Wygonik are both alleged to have provided false information to the police that resulted in false arrest and false imprisonment of the plaintiff, and that the plaintiff was targeted based on prior interactions with Neviaser and Wygonik and the school district, including a previous lawsuit against the district brought by the family in 2014.

The suit also alleges “malicious prosecution” against both Neviaser and Wygonik for previously mentioned “acts and omissions” and for acting without probable cause and with malice toward the plaintiff. 

At time of publication, neither Neviaser nor Wygonik had responded to a request for comment. Jason Kemp, chair of the Board of Education, and Martha Shoemaker, secretary of the Board of Education and First Selectman of Old Lyme, both said they could not comment on pending litigation.