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Florida Christian School Teacher Accused of Sexually Abusing Student

By Liz Lykins
harriet sugg the first academy
Harriet Sugg, a former teacher at The First Academy in Orlando, Fla. has been accused of sexually abusing a minor. (Courtesy Photo)

A former teacher at a private Christian school in Orlando, Fla. is accused of sexually abusing a minor, according to a lawsuit filed last week.

The victim is suing the teacher, the school, and the First Baptist Church of Orlando for the alleged abuse and for failing to notify law enforcement after learning about it, according to the suit.

The teacher, Harriet Sugg, 54, was arrested last month and is facing multiple charges of sexual activity with a minor, according to Orange County court records.

The lawsuit alleges that the victim, “Jane Doe,” was first abused by Sugg when she was 15 years old and a student at The First Academy. The First Academy, operated by The First Baptist Church of Orlando, is a Christian school serving over 1,300 students.

Doe first met Sugg in September 2014, a few weeks after the victim began to attend the school and Sugg quickly “ingratiated herself into Jane Doe’s life under the guise of faith-based mentorship,” according to the lawsuit.

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first academy sugg
The First Academy in Orlando, Fla. (Photo via social)

Sugg exploited her position as a teacher to befriend and groom the victim, the lawsuit alleged. The lawsuit also reported that within weeks of meeting Doe, Sugg gave her a gift that included the words, “Will you be my little sister?”

By the end of 2014, Sugg regularly spent “inordinate amount of time” with the student in and out of school, according to the suit. Sugg was constantly alone with the student in her classroom and allowed Doe to skip other classes to spend more time with the teacher, the lawsuit stated. Additionally, Sugg allegedly gave Doe rides off campus, gave her gifts, and communicated with the teenager on the phone and on social media.

The lawsuit said that staff saw Sugg holding Doe’s hand on the school’s campus. Other students reported to administration they had witnessed the pair touching each other intimately, playing with each other’s hair, and rubbing each other’s backs.

Sugg’s husband even reported her “abnormally close relationship” with the student to school administration, the lawsuit alleges.  

The stress of their relationship in “plain sight” of The First Academy administration caused a strain on Doe’s mental health, according to the suit. This in turn made her increasingly reliant upon Sugg and further isolated the teen, the suit alleges.

In 2015, Doe had multiple major self-harm episodes and spent two months in a residential mental health facility. Sugg continued to see and visit her there on the weekends, the lawsuit reported.

Despite the teacher’s “red flags,” the school continued to place Doe in multiple classes with Sugg, the suit said.

The lawsuit said that eventually Sugg began to sexually assault the minor on the school campus, off property in her vehicle, and at home when the teacher’s husband was away. The suit alleges that Sugg assaulted Doe numerous times in Sugg’s classroom.

The First Academy stuck its “head in the sand”

Sugg was provided with the means to abuse the girl by the “school’s willingness to stick its head in the sand and ignore the clear signs of child sexual abuse,” according to the suit.

The school provided Sugg with the “means and opportunity to groom, mentally and sexually abuse, manipulate, prey upon and injure” Doe, causing her to be “sexually assaulted, mentally and physically injured, traumatized, and abused,” the lawsuit added.

In addition, Sugg had previously spoken at a school chapel service to students about her own experience as a victim of child sexual abuse, the suit alleged.

In 2016, a letter from administration acknowledged the school knew of Sugg’s inappropriate behavior toward the student. However, it wasn’t until late April that the school removed Sugg from teaching, according to the suit. Then in May, the teacher’s employment was terminated.

The First Academy also asked the victim to withdraw as a student in May 2016, according to the suit. The school did not report its “knowledge or suspicion” of Sugg’s sexual abuse to local law enforcement. The suit even alleges the school made a “conscious choice” to conceal the information about the teacher.

Sugg allegedly continued to molest Doe after May 2016, and even gained employment at another Christian school, the suit said.

Sugg was employed at the school from July 2003 until May 2016.

The First Academy responds to lawsuit’s allegations

The First Academy responded to the allegations in a statement released this week, according to the news site

David Uth, Senior Pastor at First Baptist Orlando, and Dr. Steve Whitaker, Head of School at The First Academy, said they are “deeply saddened to address the allegations,” according to the statement.

“We take these allegations with the utmost seriousness and want to assure our community that we are committed to the safety, well-being, and spiritual development of our students,” the statement said. “. . . We understand that trust in our institution has been shaken by these allegations, and we want to acknowledge the pain and concern this has caused in our community.”

The statement said that because of the ongoing investigation, the school administration is limited in what information they can share.

The First Academy has been named central Florida’s No. 1 Christian private school, according to the school’s website.

Freelance journalist Liz Lykins writes for WORLD Magazine, Christianity Today, Ministry Watch, and other publications.



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