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Lawsuits accuse former Evanston High School teacher of sexual abuse

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Sun-Times file photo

A pair of lawsuits filed Wednesday in Cook County Circuit Court accuse a former Evanston High School teacher of sexually abusing two students decades ago.

The suits, brought by two men under the names John Doe 1 and John Doe 2, claim they were sexually abused by Bruce Siewerth, a former teacher and director of Evanston Township High School’s drama and theater department, according to court documents.

The former students, who gradated in 1979 and 1980, allege that while they were minors at the high school, Siewerth groped and/or fondled them, including reaching down John Doe 1’s pants and touching his genitals, according to the suit.

The suit claims that while on a school trip to New York City, Siewerth brought them to a pornography theater, and also touched them inappropriately while wrestling with them, helping them tuck in their shirts or during rides in his car.

Siewerth kept the students quiet about the abuse by using his position to manipulate them into compliance, in part by his authority in casting for school productions, the suit said.

Eric Witherspoon, superintendent of School District 202, addressed the allegations in a letter to the community last week after hearing the accusations from alumni.

Witherspoon said the teacher, which the lawsuits identify as Siewerth, retired from the district in the 1990s.

“The District has initiated its own internal review on this matter and is cooperating fully with the Evanston Police Department in their investigation of these allegations,” Witherspoon wrote in the letter, which also encouraged anyone with information to reach out to police.

A spokesman for Evanston police confirmed an investigation into the abuse allegations was ongoing, and said the department has been contacted by about 50 people who were either victims, witnesses or had second-hand knowledge they were passing along to investigators.

Siewerth’s abuse was an “open secret” within the school and theater community, according to the suit.

The suit also accuses the school of failing to restrict Siewerth’s access to the students, failing to investigate complaints about him, or turn those complaints to the proper authorities, and continuing to employee Siewerth.

Each suit seeks at least $50,000 in damages from both Siewerth and the school district.

A representative for the school district did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the lawsuits Wednesday evening. Bruce Siewerth could not be reached for comment.