HARTFORD, Conn. — A Connecticut couple alleges in a federal lawsuit that their three daughters were "indoctrinated" into a cult by public high school staff and suffered severe personality changes, including becoming "flat and distant."
The parents, known only as Jane and John Doe in court documents, filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Monday against three current and former Spanish teachers and a guidance counselor at Avon High School, the Avon school system and Wellesley College in Massachusetts, which two of their daughters now attend.
Officials with the school district in Avon, a wealthy Hartford suburb, did not comment on the allegations but said in a statement that they hadn't heard any similar complaints in the past.
The parents allege deprivation of civil rights and constitutional violations including failure to separate church and state, among other claims. Their daughters, ages 22, 19 and 16, also aren't named.
One of the parent's lawyers, Paul Grosswald, of Summit, New Jersey, declined to comment Friday, saying "the family has decided not to pursue any publicity at this time."
"All three girls experienced sudden and severe personality changes," the lawsuit says. "They became flat and distant, reclusive, secretive, and non-communicative. They lost their humor and their empathy."
The couple says their two older daughters were "indoctrinated into a religious cult that promotes martyrdom and celebrates death," and that has caused them to experience "fantasies of suicide ideation and martyrdom." They didn't name the cult.
Messages were left for the three teachers and guidance counselor Friday.
Steven Hassan, a mental health counselor who has written books on cults and mind control, said there have been cases where teachers exert undue influence on students, but it typically does not last long because the parents go to school administrators. He said he could not comment specifically about the Connecticut case.
The Avon school district's statement said officials "will continue to review the content of the complaint and have turned the matter over to our school district legal counsel."
The Associated Press left a message with Avon police for comment on whether it had received any related criminal complaints.
The lawsuit says one teacher "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."
The parents say Wellesley College, near Boston, contributed to the indoctrination by allowing the two older daughters to stay in summer housing to which they weren't entitled. The arrangement allowed the teachers to continue to have access to the two, allowing the indoctrination to continue, the parents allege.
A spokeswoman for Wellesley declined to comment Friday.