Parents allege school ignored concerns in sex abuse case

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on July 9, 2012 at 10:46 PM

MURPHY – The parents of several child abuse victims have filed a lawsuit against a school principal and the Plano school district accusing them of ignoring warnings about a sexual predator.

Parents of three elementary students say administrators at Hunt Elementary in Murphy repeatedly dismissed concerns about kindergarten teacher Joseph Garbarini. Garbarini, 30, is currently serving a 62-year prison sentence after he was convicted of child sexual abuse last year.

The explosive accusations involving diapers, bottles and cages horrified parents when the news broke in May 2010. In the months before his arrest however, the lawsuit said parents and teachers had unsettling suspicions about Garbarini. He was often seen tickling, hugging, photographing and encouraging young girls to sit on his lap.

Yet the school’s principal, Linda Engelking, dismissed the concerns, according to the lawsuit.

“She simply did not care,” lawyers wrote in the suit filed Friday in federal court in Sherman, adding that she chose “to protect the teacher and place her loyalty to him above her concerns for the minor children.”

The lawsuit claims Garbarini’s actions so bothered parents that several asked their students to be moved to a different teacher. Lawyers allege the mother of one of the victims tried at the beginning of the school year to have her daughter assigned to a different class, but that Engelking discouraged the transfer.

A man who answered the door at Engelking’s Plano home refused to comment. The district said she retired this year after 33 years in Plano ISD.

“Plano ISD has not been served with the lawsuit,” district spokesperson Lesley Range-Stanton wrote to News 8 in a statement, “but we understand it has been filed. Our attorneys will be in communication upon review.”

The suit alleges Engelking did confront Garbarini, but that he saw nothing inappropriate in his actions.

According to the lawsuit, she later wrote after a meeting with Garbarini that, “I value my male teachers too much to let these small things get in the way of their teaching.”

Garbarini’s trial revealed the teacher played ‘mommy-baby’ games with his students, which involved him molesting young girls while putting them in diapers. The lawsuit alleges he brought bags of diapers and children’s clothes to school and made excuses to undress the young children behind a bookshelf in his classroom. He would threaten to harm the student’s family if they cried, according to court documents.

When officers searched Garbarini’s home, they found thousands of dirty diapers, a large dog cage where he slept while wearing a diaper, and a bedroom decorated in a princess theme with a bed and shackles.

Throughout the trial, Garbarini’s lawyers admitted he had odd sexual fantasies, but insisted they were legal and did not involved pedophilia. His attorney did not return a call for comment. He is appealing his conviction.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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