Four alumni from a Texas high school have joined a lawsuit alleging misconduct from the school’s theater program director, now on leave.
The lawsuit, filed last fall by five former students, accuses Bowie High School theater director Diane “Betsy” Cornwell of several instances of inappropriate conduct involving students in the theater program. Now, four more students have joined with additional accusations against her.
Just one year ago, the school board named the Bowie performing arts center after Cornwell, who had been the theater director at the school for over three decades and an Austin Independent School District (AISD) employee for over 40 years. According to the suit, the praise Cornwell received at the time evoked further reflection from the plaintiffs regarding their negative experiences.
Among the original allegations of Cornwell’s behavior are manipulation, assault, battery and inappropriate touching. Plaintiffs recounted instances where Cornwell instructed students to rehearse intimacy, KVUE reported. Cornwell would also allegedly tap into past trauma to elicit emotion from students. The suit additionally claims that she gave a student drugs.
New allegations claim that Cornwell and another teacher had students buy alcohol on a school trip, that she ignored an assault report, and that she inappropriately touched a male student on several occasions.
The suit names Cornwell and AISD as defendants. According to the suit, the district mishandled several complaints regarding Cornwell’s behavior.
“It’s based on [AISD’s] failure to provide a safe environment for the students and their failure to take any action regarding the abuse that was happening,” plaintiffs’ attorney Jennifer Despins said. Despins claimed that several more students besides the nine in the suit have contacted her about Cornwell.
Cornwell has been on paid leave since the lawsuit was filed. To date, she has not yet filed an answer to the lawsuit. AISD has filed motions to dismiss.