NOTE: Lusher Charter School is now The Willow School. The name was changed to start the 2022-23 school year.
NEW ORLEANS - A former Lusher Charter School student filed a lawsuit Wednesday against a former teacher there and the school, saying the teacher groomed her starting when she was 11 and began molesting her when she was 16.
The former student, Chloe Riviere, now 26 and living in Baton Rouge, says the teacher, Ed Cerrone, began having sex with her when she was 17, the legal age of consent in Louisiana. She reported the alleged abuse to New Orleans police last year, but she said a detective told her a judge declined to sign a warrant to arrest Cerrone because the texts didn’t reference sexual acts before she turned 17.
Cheron Brylski, a spokesperson for what is now called The Willow School, said that in 2021, the school investigated Cerrone, who had been Riviere’s sixth-grade homeroom and English teacher, after another “concerned former student” told them about Riviere’s allegations.
Riviere received a text message from Ronda Moore, principal of the high school, telling her the school was investigating and the Title IX coordinator would like to meet with her. Riviere texted back that she wanted to speak with her lawyer, Kristi Schubert. Schubert said there was no further communication in either direction after that.
Cerrone said his attorney advised him to wait and file his response to the allegations in court.
WWL-TV and The Times-Picayune typically do not identify people who say they were victims of sex crimes. But Riviere agreed to be identified and appeared on camera in an interview with reporters.
Riviere’s lawsuit includes copies of dozens of text messages between her and Cerrone, including some that seem to confirm that an intimate relationship had begun by the time she was 17. The texts start in 2015, when Riviere was 19 and Cerrone was 42. Riviere has sworn an affidavit that the texts are genuine and that they are between her and Cerrone.
In some of the texts, Cerrone acknowledges having had sex with her when she was 17, admits that it could make his life “very difficult” if school leaders were to find out, and brags about being Riviere’s “sugar daddy.”
Because Cerrone was employed as a teacher at Lusher and Riviere was a student at the school when she was 17, the lawsuit alleges he violated a state criminal law prohibiting sexual conduct between educator and student if the student is between 17 and 21 and the teacher is more than four years older.
But that crime is a misdemeanor and charges must be filed within two years. Riviere took seven years after graduation to file a criminal complaint.
In the texts, he strikes a defiant tone whenever Riviere brings up the forbidden nature of their past relationship or the fact that Cerrone was married with four children while it was happening. At times, when she questioned the propriety of their relationship, he responded by questioning her loyalty or by trying to get her to share what he called “the blame.”
“From the time I was 11 to 24, that's 13 years of him conditioning me to completely rely on him for everything … Every so often I find new ways that it manifests itself,” Riviere said in an interview last week. “... He stole 13 years from me.”
When she first encountered Cerrone, Riviere said, he was a 34-year-old “charming” first-year teacher who wore his hair in a low ponytail. Riviere, meanwhile, was in a vulnerable state.
Three months after her family of four had been robbed at gunpoint while on vacation, they lost their home in Katrina and lived in a FEMA trailer with their two cats and two dogs.
Riviere said she began acting out in school. One afternoon in detention, Cerrone asked her to write an essay about why she was behaving badly. She recounted her past traumas and recurring nightmares.
“I didn’t realize when I was writing everything that had gone on or gone wrong in my life that I was like, ‘Here’s an instruction manual on my vulnerabilities and insecurities and trauma,’” she said in an interview.
After that, Riviere said, she and Cerrone became “best friends.” She spent time in his classroom and he gave her advice, gifts and money. She babysat his children and they texted regularly.
Riviere recalled often falling asleep with her phone nearby, waiting for a text from him.
When Riviere was 16, Cerrone told her he loved her and “it turned sexual pretty quickly,” she said.
The lawsuit alleges Cerrone would describe explicit acts to her at school and that he digitally and orally penetrated her when she was 16. The lawsuit alleges those acts should be considered felony carnal knowledge of a juvenile and molestation of a juvenile under state law.
In the lawsuit, she claims she and Cerrone were watching TV on Valentine’s Day 2013, five weeks after her 17th birthday, when he roughly pulled her toward him on the couch, spanked her and had sexual intercourse with her. A month later, the school recommended to Riviere’s mother that she be hospitalized for signs of severe mental distress, according to medical records attached to the lawsuit.
In texts from March 2020, Cerrone seemed to acknowledge having sex with Riviere, when Riviere declined an invitation for sex.
“You had sex with me when I was a child,” she wrote, and reminded him of Valentine’s Day 2013.
“Right,” he replied. “Should I call the DA to file charges against myself or do you want to call?”
Later in the same exchange, he asked her, “Are you blame free because you were a ‘child’(?)” and added, “I hooked up with my (high school) AP (H)istory teacher. You know who bears the blame? Me(.) I knew exactly what I was doing.”
Riviere, who works for the Baton Rouge Area Chamber of Commerce, reported Cerrone to New Orleans police in June 2021. At that same time, she filed for a restraining order in civil court that makes some of the same basic claims as the lawsuit. Cerrone did not oppose the stay-away order and the court granted it. It prohibits Cerrone from contacting or going close to Riviere until the end of this month.
Riviere thinks school officials deserve some blame for what happened to her, and her suit takes aim at them.
“(Cerrone) carries responsibility for his actions; however, the environment that Lusher created enabled him,” Riviere said.
Riviere said it was common knowledge among her peers and other teachers that she spent lots of time in Cerrone’s classroom. In the texts, he repeatedly says he is unafraid of consequences. When she texted him in 2015 that she heard he had been talking about girls’ bodies in class, he replied, “I'm not worried about that crap. Even the administration doesn't care. It's old news.”
Brylski, the school spokesperson, said the school requires that any conversation that could be construed as inappropriate be reported to administrators but that neither Cerrone nor anyone else ever reported any of his conversations with Riviere.
No other complaints have been made against Cerrone, she said.
Cerrone is the second teacher at the school in recent years who has been accused of grooming students. Blake Bailey, who taught English at Lusher Middle School from 1993 to 2000, was accused by several women of grooming them as students and having sex with them after they graduated. One of the former students said Bailey raped her.
“The Willow School has always prohibited sexual harassment and inappropriate contact or communication of any kind between teachers and students, both before and after the allegations against Mr. Bailey,” Brylski said.
Shortly after this story posted online, The Willow School's interim CEO, Nicolette London, sent an email to the school community, assuring them the school has a zero-tolerance policy for any form of sexual misconduct and sexual harassment.
"While these alleged events are said to have occurred in prior years, we continue to recognize our responsibility to protect the safety of our students which includes their physical, mental and emotional well-being," the email read in part.
Riviere said she hopes sharing her story will encourage others to speak out.
“If one child or one family can hear this story and not have that type of thing happen to them that I would feel good,” she said. “I worry that it’s going to follow me, but I would rather it follow me than carry it.”