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Retired Long Island elementary school teacher Thomas Bernagozzi accused of sexually abusing students

By JENNA DEANGELIS

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    BAY SHORE, New York (WCBS) — A retired elementary school teacher on Long Island is accused of sexually abusing students for years.

While leaving court, 75-year-old Thomas Bernagozzi had nothing to say about the disturbing allegations against him. The former Bay Shore teacher is accused of sexually abusing young students in his care for years.

“The breadth of the abuse itself is astounding,” Suffolk County District Attorney Raymond Tierney said.

Suffolk County Police began an investigation after two men reported the abuse happened while they were students at Gardiner Manor Elementary School and Mary G. Clarkson Elementary School, dating back to the 1980s.

“He vehemently denies the allegations,” defense attorney Eric Besso said.

“Right now, because of the statute of limitations, he’s charged with abusing two children, however, we suspect there’s much more so we urge anyone who has any information … to come forward,” Tierney said.

Robert Hubbard says he’s a survivor of the abuse.

“He was my third grade teacher … I played baseball after school, baseball with him, with an event where he would molest me after baseball,” he said.

He showed CBS New York a certificate from the ’70s which notes Bernagozzi as his teacher.

“He always used to tell us, ‘Don’t tell your parents. Don’t tell anybody. This is our secret.’ You know, and as a little kid, you’re a little kid, you don’t know until you get a little older and you realize what he was doing, and that’s where that’s where the pain set in,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard buried his secret, with the pain, but says years later, while working security for Bay Shore schools, he saw Bernagozzi still working there, was in disbelief and finally reported it.

“Put it out there to the school board, I put it out there to my superior, and you know, instead of doing something about it, they fired me from security,” Hubbard said.

He is among 43 men who have filed civil lawsuits against the Bay Shore School District, represented by Herman Law.

“We want to help them heal. And a piece of that is the civil lawsuit and holding the district accountable,” attorney Jenny Rossman said.

Rossman says the civil lawsuits were filed under the Child Victims Act, which was passed in 2019. It temporarily lifted the statute of limitations, allowing survivors of sexual abuse to take legal action.

“There was, you know, serious institutional failure to allow a perpetrator to operate for so many years and hurt so many children and ruin so many lives,” Rossman said.

The school district says it does not comment on pending litigation.

The superintendent addressed Thursday’s arrest in the following letter to the community:

“On December 21, 2023, we were informed by the Suffolk County Police Department that a former employee of the Bay Shore School District was arrested today. This former employee has not been affiliated with the District since 2000. At this time we have no further information regarding the matter.

“In accordance with District practice, we fully cooperate with the Suffolk County Police Department on law enforcement matters. We remain committed to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our students.

“As always, thank you for your support of our students and Bay Shore Schools.”

Hubbard said the arrest was a relief.

“What he did to people was horrible. Excuse me. Was really bad. So, and he just didn’t do it to me. He did it to a lot of people,” he said.

While a judge placed Bernagozzi on supervised release, Hubbard is hoping his fate will be behind bars.

Bernagozzi is due back in court Dec. 26 on the criminal charges.

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