CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Three students are set to go to trial next year claiming the Kanawha County Board of Education could have protected them from alleged sexual abuse by a former JROTC teacher at South Charleston High School.
Edwin Albert Smuda of Dunbar, was charged with first-degree sexual abuse by a parent or guardian in November 2011. In July last year, Smuda was found hanged in an apparent suicide at his sister's house in New Jersey. He was 59.
Earlier this year, three of Smuda's former students filed a lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court against his estate and the Board of Education, claiming the board was negligent and recklessly exposed the students, who were then juveniles, to Smuda.
At a hearing Tuesday, Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky set an April 28 trial date. Officials with the Kanawha County school system have denied the claims in the lawsuit.
According to the criminal complaint on file in Kanawha County Magistrate Court, Smuda was charged with sexually abusing one student at his home in Dunbar. He had worked as the JROTC instructor at South Charleston High for 15 years.
A juvenile male and his mother reported to the Dunbar Police Department in October that Smuda made sexual advances toward the teenager while they were watching a movie at Smuda's residence on Grandview Drive in Dunbar, the criminal complaint states.
According to the lawsuit filed by the students, the school board had received several reports that students were living with Smuda at his home and accompanying him on vacations.
"The Board, however, took no action to protect the students entrusted to its care. Because of the undeserved trust the Board placed in Smuda countless parents placed their trust and the health and wellbeing of their young sons in Smuda," the lawsuit states.
"Had the Board acted on its actual and constructive knowledge of Smuda's dangerous behavior it could have prevented exposing the [plaintiffs], as well as other JROTC students, to these terrible acts of sexual misconduct. But it chose not to do so."
According to the lawsuit, school administrators received complaints from parents about Smuda's inappropriate behavior toward some of his male students.
A parent filed one complaint in August 2008, according to the lawsuit, that alleged Smuda had put whipped cream down a student's pants.
That complaint resulted in Smuda being placed on leave for one week, the suit states.