FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — A federal lawsuit alleges at least 21 complaints were on file alleging "grooming, sexual harassment, and sexual assault" prior to the hiring of a teacher, at a charter school in Fulton County, who would end up pleading guilty to raping a 13 year old student at the school, and who was later convicted in two child molestation cases at his next teaching job at a private school in Cherokee County, where he'd been hired before police learned about the rape in Fulton County.
The teacher, Robert Vandel, 65, pleaded guilty in Fulton County last year to charges including rape and aggravated child molestation, and sentenced to 10 years in prison, for an assault during his time at Fulton Academy of Science and Technology (FAST) in Roswell.
Vandel later also pleaded guilty in a case linked to his time at Lyndon Academy in Cherokee County. Then, in March, 2023, a judge in Cherokee County sentenced Vandel to eight years in prison, his term to run concurrently with the ten-year sentence he received in Fulton County.
The lawsuit, filed in February in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, alleges he committed a long list of offenses, such as sexual harassment and worse, during various teaching jobs at schools in Georgia going back at least two decades, but that the offenses essentially went ignored in Vandel's hiring and continued employment.
The offenses included, according to the suit, seven student written complaints and 14 teacher written complaints on his Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GPSC) file at the time of his hiring at FAST for the 2019-2020 school year. It additionally alleges he was reported on six occasions by teachers and students at FAST while he was employed there.
"Vandel’s ongoing misconduct at FAST was remarkable in its similarity to and continuity with his well-documented prior misconduct at other schools," the suit states. "Even though FAST and Defendants were aware of these reports, they refused to take action to appropriately investigate Vandel’s behavior, separate him from minor female students, or terminate his employment."
The suit argues "deliberate indifference" and "reckless breakdowns of supervision" led to Vandel's assaulting and raping a 13-year-old 7th grade girl in his classroom at FAST in March, 2020, just before schools shut down as a result of the pandemic.
The 100-page suit is seeking an injunction to require the school system to "take specific measures to safeguard the bodily integrity of their students from invasion by sexual predators, including other students, on school premises and in school facilities and programs."
It also seeks a declaration by a judge that the girl's rights were violated under Title IX, as well as damages.
Vandel was first arrested in 2021 on rape and other charges for allegedly assaulting the student at FAST, and then he faced additional charges linked to a second victim while he was teaching at Lyndon Academy.
He was teaching at Lyndon Academy at the time of his arrest on the Fulton County charges, and police at that time began reaching out to try and find other potential victims.
Warrants from Fulton County claimed Vandel was having online chats with several students while at FAST. It also stated Vandel's classroom used to be in a trailer outside of the main building, and several students were seen going to the trailer during recess, lunch, and after school.
The warrant alleged Vandel kept roaches, lizards, and a hedgehog in his classroom to encourage students to spend time there when they weren't in class, and that he gave students candy and ice cream when they visited his classroom, as well.
In his Fulton County sentencing, Vandel was ordered to spend the rest of his life on probation and on the sex offender registry.
"He will not be allowed any unsupervised contact with minors, no contact with the victims or their families, and will never be able to serve in a capacity where he will have access to children," Roswell Police wrote in a Facebook post after the guilty plea in that case.
"He should have never been hired at FAST, never been put in a situation where he was alone with young students," said Atlanta attorney Frank Bayuk, one of the attorneys representing the 13 year old girl in Fulton County, and her parents.
"He engaged in literally the same conduct at FAST that he had been engaging in for years" at other schools, Bayuk told 11Alive Monday evening. "And then once he was hired at FAST, there was so much conduct that teachers and students reported to the leadership of the school that he should have been terminated long before" he raped the girl.
A spokesperson for Fulton County Schools told 11Alive she could not comment on the lawsuit, but did say the school system does not do the hiring at charter schools. "FAST is a separate legal entity from the Fulton County School district. FAST creates and implements its own personnel policies and hires, vets, and manages its staff independently. Fulton County Schools does not comment on pending litigation."
The Chair of FAST's Governing Board, Joseph Akpan, wrote 11Alive Monday, "The FAST board is aware that litigation has been filed against the school related to the reprehensible criminal acts of Robert Vandel, a former faculty member who is now incarcerated. We remain deeply committed to the uncompromised safety and security of our students and staff members and this will always be a top priority at FAST. Because this is pending litigation, we cannot provide any additional comment on the matter, other than to say that we deny all of the allegations asserted against FAST in the complaint."
11Alive was not able to reach Lyndon Academy, the Cherokee County private school, for comment from administrators Monday evening.
"It's easy for schools to check" a teacher's background before hiring the teacher, said the President of the Georgia Association of Educators, Lisa Morgan, Monday. "Charter schools and private schools here in Georgia are not required to employ only certified teachers... but we would, at GAE, expect that everyone who is hiring someone to put them in a classroom with students would be doing their due diligence, to make sure that the educator is not only a professional, but that they are going to uphold the high standards of our profession."