Family Claims Teachers Lured Girls Into Cult

      HARTFORD (CN) - Three high school Spanish teachers and a guidance counselor indoctrinated three girls into a religious cult "that promotes martyrdom and celebrates death," the girls' parents claim in court.
     The Doe family sued Avon (Conn.) Public Schools, Wellesley College, and the teachers, in Federal Court.
     "All three girls experienced sudden and severe personality changes," the complaint states. "They became flat and distant, reclusive, secretive, and non-communicative. They lost their humor and their empathy. They began speaking in a bizarre new language. They became unable to think critically or independently. They became dependent on the school teachers and guidance counselor who had indoctrinated them, especially defendant Tanya Mastoloni."
     The youngest daughter, who is 16, was able to break free, but the 22- and 19-year-old remain under the teachers' influence and even reported that their parents were abusive in order to get access to housing at Wellesley College over the summer, according to the 64-page lawsuit.
     "On information and belief, the two older Doe sisters were indoctrinated into a religious cult that promotes martyrdom, and celebrates death. This has caused the elder Doe sisters to experience fantasies of suicidal ideation and martyrdom," the complaint states.
     The three Spanish teachers, especially Mastoloni, preyed on students who lacked social skills and were shy around their peers, the Does claim in the lawsuit. They claim the defendants subjected the girls to "predatory religious indoctrination."
     "Mastoloni was not just teaching her students Spanish. She taught her students
     religion and pseudoscience," the parents say. "Specifically, she taught her students to believe in superstition, magic, and a non-scientific, anti-intellectual worldview. She would discuss spirituality, numerology, astrology, dreams, mysticism, looking for 'signs,' angels, symbols, 'synchronicity,' 'negativity,' 'seeking the truth,' and death. All of those topics are religious in nature, and none of those topics are included in the Avon School District curriculum."
     The eldest daughter, E.D., became friends with Mastoloni and when she turned 18 they began hanging out outside of school, the parents say. The parents, Jane and John Doe, say they did not approve, but there was little they could do to separate their daughter from Mastoloni, who went to visit E.D. at college.
     L.D., the middle daughter, was assigned to Mastoloni's class at Avon High School, and soon grew to have a similar relationship with the teacher, the parents say. They claim that Mastoloni and the three other defendants encouraged L.D. to attend Wellesley College too so it would be easier for them to visit both sisters.
     "Mastoloni had already converted the two older Doe sisters, and now she was looking to add the third sister to her coven," the complaint states. The youngest daughter goes by the initials J.D.
     It was not until J.D. broke free, the parents say, that they understood that their daughters had been subjected to religious indoctrination at Avon High School.
     The Does say they sent their daughters to public school to receive a secular education. "The religious indoctrination had no secular purpose," the complaint states.
     They claim that the "infringement of Jane's and John's fundamental right to parental autonomy was done without a compelling reason, and without due process of law."
     The Does want Avon Public Schools held accountable for its failure to "properly supervise and control its employees, and for allowing its employees to engage in predatory religious indoctrination in school."
     They seek assurance that "Avon Public Schools ... provide proper training and supervision to all of its employees with respect to its employees' obligations to refrain from proselytizing or otherwise indoctrinating students with religion during the course of their employment."
     Defendants include Mastoloni aka Tanya Romero, Spanish teachers Rebecca Kessler and Christopher Esposito, and guidance counselor Laura Sullivan.
     The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in New Haven by Thomas Groth of Naugatuck.