July/August 2014 Church & State | People & Events

In a bizarre case, the family of three Connecticut girls claims that three Spanish teachers and a guidance counselor at their daughters’ public high school lured them into an unconventional religious group.

According to Courthouse News Service, the anonymous Doe family’s three girls were drawn into a dangerous group “that promotes martyrdom and celebrates death” by faculty employed at Avon High School in Avon, Conn. 

“All three girls experienced sudden and severe personality changes,” asserts the lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in New Haven. “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.”

In Doe v. Mastoloni, the Doe family said its youngest daughter, who is 16, broke away from the religious group. But two older daughters are still influenced by the teachers and claimed falsely that their parents are abusive in order to access summer housing at Wellesley College, which is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit along with Avon Public Schools.

 “Mastoloni was not just teaching her students Spanish,” the lawsuit said. “She taught her students religion and pseudoscience. 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 Doe parents claim that Mastoloni became friends with their eldest daughter, identified as “E.D.” in court papers, when she turned 18. The two had a friendship outside of class, and their relationship continued after E.D. went to college.

Another daughter, “L.D.” was in Mastoloni’s class at Avon High School and soon developed a similar relationship with her, the lawsuit states. The suit also claims Mastoloni pressured E.D. and L.D. to attend Wellesley so it would be easier for her to visit them. E.D. and L.D. have since cut off contact with their family and friends, the suit said.       

Mastoloni allegedly made a similar play for “J.D.,” the youngest Doe daughter, but she broke away from the group. It was only then that the Doe parents realized the extent of the problem, according to their lawsuit.