Parents of the victims of Joseph Garbarini, the pedophile who was sentenced to more than 60 years last October for the sexual abuse of kindergarten girls at Plano's Hunt Elementary school, are suing the school district and the principal for ignoring the predator in their midst.
An investigation of the teacher was launched after a 5-year-old girl told her mother about inappropriate touching during a diaper change. It turned out Garbarini had a twisted fetish. Investigators found literally thousands of diapers, many of them dirty, in his home.
They found a bedroom decorated in a princess theme, with shackles fastened to a toddler-sized bed. They found a dog cage Garbarini apparently slept in while wearing a diaper. Someone on the Internet controlled the lock. According to the complaint, filed in federal court in Sherman, parents of at least one of the victims tried to have their child moved to a different class, but were allegedly thwarted by principal Linda Engelking.
In January 2010, the complaint says, Engelking was told by a kindergarten team leader that one of the victims said Garbarini had been "tickling" her. Other teachers reported seeing him with little girls in his lap. They reported catching him holding his students' hands and even carrying one by "placing his arm underneath her buttocks." It was widely known that Garbarini photographed the little girls in his class.
Fellow teachers found out Garbarini kept a Sesame Street bag stocked with clean clothes and diapers in case someone had "an accident." He usually changed them behind a set of bookshelves that blocked him from view. When Engelking confronted him about the tickling incident, Garbarini teacher admitted no wrongdoing.
Yet the conduct he would cop to was inappropriate in the principal's eyes, the complaint says. Garbarini told Engelking the touching -- the frontal hugs, the lap-sitting and the hand-holding -- was innocent and done unconsciously, so he couldn't very well stop it on his own. Instead, he allegedly asked Engelking to task another teacher with looking in on his classroom. Perhaps someone else could give him a cue if they saw him behaving inappropriately with his students.
But no one ever followed up. In fact, the parents say the principal took no further action against Garbarini until it was already too late. "I value my male teachers too much to let these small things get in the way of their teaching," Engelking allegedly wrote after her meeting with Garbarini.
But in May 2010, it was found that Garbarini was sexually abusing his students behind the bookshelves. To secure their silence, Garbarini told the girls he would hurt their parents if they told anyone or cried out.
The parents are accusing the school district and the principal of indifference to the serial predator stalking their children. They're asking for unspecified damages.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.