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Lawsuit: AISD theater director accused of sexual harassment, assault and verbal abuse – Austin American-Statesman


Five former Austin school district students have accused the Bowie High School theater director of sexual harassment, assault and other “inappropriate and illegal behavior" in a lawsuit against her and the district.

5 former Austin college district college students accused the Bowie Excessive Faculty theater director of sexual harassment, assault and different “inappropriate and unlawful habits” in a lawsuit filed Friday in opposition to her and the district.

Diane Elizabeth “Betsy” Cornwell has been a theater director for greater than 30 years at Bowie, and the plaintiffs — Walden Hagelman, Sarah Andrews, Andie Haddad, Dana Havlin and Erika De Los Santos — all attended the varsity and have been concerned within the theater program between 2008 and 2014. 

Within the go well with, the 5 feminine alumni stated Cornwell engaged in inappropriate touching, dangerous and abusive language, assault, battery, emotional and psychological abuse, and manipulation whereas they have been in highschool. She additionally allowed sexual assaults to occur below her course and supplied medication to at the least one pupil, based on the go well with. 

The Austin college board voted in January to call the performing arts heart at Bowie after Cornwell. A tweet in August from the Bowie account stated that Cornwell had given “a lot to college students for therefore a few years” and the varsity was “so glad to honor” Cornwell with the naming.

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The alumni declare within the go well with that the district was ignoring the abuse they suffered by naming the middle after Cornwell and “praising and commending their assaulter.” The reward prompted the alumni “to revisit their damaging experiences as kids by the hands of Defendant Cornwell” and “acknowledge as adults the extent of abuse they suffered,” the go well with says.

“Solely then did plaintiffs reconnect and notice that their individualized experiences have been a part of a broader failure on the a part of AISD to acknowledge and treatment harmful situations inside JBHS, and as a substitute enable Defendant Cornwell to have full management over (Starlight Theatre Firm) and proceed to perpetuate an abusive, emotionally and bodily damaging atmosphere that the scholars have been compelled to endure,” the go well with says.

Starlight Theatre Firm is the theater program at Bowie.

Cornwell — who didn’t reply to a request for remark — is now on paid administrative depart, and the district is investigating the allegations. Austin district spokesperson Nayeli Santoyo Flores stated the district couldn’t touch upon any personnel issues or litigation.

The go well with alleges that Cornwell directed college students to interact in open mouth kissing and heavy groping throughout particular night rehearsals, screamed at college students to the purpose the place they have been in tears and touched male college students in a method that made them uncomfortable. 

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In accordance with the go well with, Cornwell gave Andrews unidentified ache treatment earlier than a efficiency at a senior awards banquet, which left her closely sedated to the purpose that she blacked out, and he or she additionally kissed Andrews and one other pupil on the lips earlier than a separate efficiency. 

Cornwell instructed Haddad that she was a “slut,” soiled and would solely be beloved if she used her physique, the go well with says, and he or she forged Hagelman as a Vietnamese intercourse employee in a manufacturing of “Miss Saigon” and compelled her to offer lap dances and carry out intimate sexual acts on her male friends on stage, the lawsuit says. 

The go well with claims that Cornwell’s abuse induced Havlin to be hospitalized for suicidal ideation, and Andrews additionally skilled excessive misery and suicidal ideation as a consequence of “fixed beratement” from Cornwell. De Los Santos was so traumatized by her experiences with Cornwell that she engaged in self-harm for years and developed an consuming dysfunction, based on the go well with.

The go well with stated a number of complaints have been made to the district about Cornwell, and the district continued to make use of her as a theater trainer and director regardless of consciousness of her “inappropriate and harmful habits with college students.” The plaintiffs are in search of a jury trial and damages for Title IX violations, assault, intentional infliction of emotional misery and every other causes of motion.

The plaintiffs additionally need Cornwell’s title faraway from the Bowie theater house, the hiring of intimacy coordinators and obligatory intimacy coaching for all district theater packages, monitoring of the Starlight Theatre Firm to make sure compliance with federal regulation, and coaching on sexual assault, harassment and race and intercourse discrimination for all district theater packages.

“Since coming ahead with their claims, our shoppers have obtained in depth assist from fellow alumni in addition to from present Bowie lecturers,” stated Jennifer Jones Despins, the plaintiff’s lawyer. “Whereas it was very troublesome to talk publicly about their experiences, it does give them some solace to know that this abuse has lastly been delivered to mild and now have to be addressed by the district and not ignored.”


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