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Parents file lawsuit against Duxbury Public Schools alleging gym teacher abused middle school student in mid-2000s

Joseph Parker Foley
Joseph Parker FoleyHandout/Jason Morgan

A Duxbury couple on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the local school district and a gym teacher, alleging the instructor repeatedly raped their son inside Duxbury Middle School in the mid-2000s, creating a life of torment for the boy that ended when he died of a drug overdose at the age of 27.

The 14-page civil complaint was filed in Plymouth Superior Court by an attorney for Joseph Foley and Melissa Foley, whose son, Joseph Parker Foley, suffered a fatal overdose in October 2020, records show. The suit names the Duxbury Public Schools and the gym teacher, John Blake, as defendants.

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Blake also served as the Duxbury boys varsity hockey coach from 2003 until he was suspended in 2020, and school officials say they’ve launched termination proceedings.

Kevin Reddington, a lawyer for Blake, said in a phone interview that his client “a thousand percent” denies the allegations in the Foleys’ civil complaint and plans to file a countersuit against them.

“This guy is a good guy,” Reddington said of Blake. “There is no case here.” Reddington described the Foleys’ lawsuit as “salacious” and said “it is nasty, it is dirty, and it is very disturbing.”

Blake, Reddington said, has never had a prior allegation of misconduct brought against him in 25 years as a teacher and coach.

“He is beloved,” Reddington said, lamenting what he said was the ordeal Blake’s suffered having his “character assassinated” by “this malicious allegation.”

“John is a wonderful man,” Reddington said. “He’s a family man.”

School officials say Blake was placed on paid leave Nov. 25. That move, school officials say, was made one day after the Foleys contacted Duxbury police.

Blake hasn’t been charged with any crimes, and school officials said in a statement that it’s “absolutely untrue that the District failed to take reasonable steps and/or implement reasonable safeguards to avoid such acts from occurring in our schools, as is alleged in the lawsuit.”

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Duxbury police said they investigated but “ultimately found that charges could not be brought forward because the alleged victim in the case was deceased.”

The suit comes as the school district continues to grapple with the fallout stemming from anti-Semitic play calls the Duxbury High School football team used during a March 12 game.

According to the civil complaint, the younger Joseph Foley, who went by Parker, was repeatedly assaulted by Blake when the boy was supposed to be in gym class.

On multiple occasions, the suit alleges, Blake, who decided whether boys were appropriately dressed for gym, held Parker back from class and took him to an empty room, where he initially touched the boy inappropriately. Over time, the civil complaint says, the assaults escalated to rape and forced oral sex.

“These events happened in the gym and/or an empty classroom within the Duxbury Middle School,” the complaint says, adding that the assaults only stopped when Parker Foley brought a knife to school and threatened his alleged tormentor.

“After suffering months of unwanted sexual abuse at the hands of Blake, Parker took a knife from his neighbor’s house and brought it to school one day,” the complaint says. “When Blake attempted to sexually assault Parker that day, Parker drew the knife on Blake and threatened to kill Blake if he ever touched him again. Only then did Blake cease his sexual assaults on Parker.”

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Parker began using drugs shortly afterward, the suit says, and he struggled with addiction throughout high school and college, passing in and out of treatment centers.

He also told his college girlfriend, another close high school friend, and a therapist about Blake’s alleged assaults, according to the suit. Then about two years ago, the complaint says, Parker disclosed details of the abuse to his parents but insisted they not contact authorities out of concern for his own mental health and the publicity such a report would create.

His parents honored his request not to name him as a victim, the suit says, but his father sent an anonymous letter to school officials identifying Blake as a “sexual predator” who committed assaults at the middle school.

The “anonymous report,” the complaint says, was forwarded to Duxbury police, but no legal or disciplinary action was taken against Blake at the time.

Following Parker Foley’s death in October 2020 in Minnesota, the suit says, his parents uncovered more evidence of Blake’s alleged assaults, including a handwritten note Foley had left in his apartment identifying Blake as his abuser.

The Foleys contacted Duxbury police, and Blake was placed on leave, according to the suit.

John Blake
John BlakeGretchen Ertl

The civil complaint says an internal investigation by Duxbury Public Schools found that Blake was “not credible in his denials of having assaulted Parker.”

And the school district, the complaint alleges, “was grossly negligent in such a way that amounted to deliberate, reckless and/or callous indifference about the health, welfare, and safety of Parker while Parker was under DPS’s supervision, care and control.”

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Court records indicate the Foleys are seeking $1 million in damages.

The Foleys are seeking unspecified damages.

In a separate statement issued Tuesday, Duxbury Superintendent John Antonucci and School Committee Chair Kellie Bresnehan defended the district’s handling of the matter and also expressed sympathy for the Foley family.

“First, we want to express our sympathy for the loss of Parker Foley,” the statement said. “Parker attended Duxbury Public Schools until he left the district in 9th grade, and we were saddened to hear of the passing of a former member of our school community. The allegations laid out in the lawsuit filed by Parker’s family date back to 2006.”

The school officials said they’re “understandably disturbed by what has been alleged, but need to make clear that this District took the proper actions once we were notified of a complaint. It is absolutely untrue that the District failed to take reasonable steps and/or implement reasonable safeguards to avoid such acts from occurring in our schools, as is alleged in the lawsuit.”

When the allegations against Blake surfaced in 2018 and again in 2020, Antonucci and Bresnehan said, “Duxbury Public Schools immediately launched investigations and placed Blake on administrative leave from both his teaching and coaching positions. The first investigation in 2018 was based on accusations in an anonymous letter and a subsequent anonymous phone call with no detail about the student’s age, name, or any other identifying information.”

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At the time and since then, the statement said, “the District worked closely with the Duxbury Police Department, the Plymouth County District Attorney’s office, and the Department of Children and Families. Unfortunately, with no identifying information about the victim, the 2018 investigation went cold.”

It wasn’t until November 2020, the statement said, seven weeks after Parker Foley’s death, that “the family’s lawyer revealed their identity to the school district and confirmed specific information related to the alleged abuse that took place back in 2006. At that time, Blake was again immediately placed on leave from his teaching and coaching positions.”

The statement said a “new, exhaustive investigation was launched with an outside investigatory firm while the District remained in close contact with the Duxbury Police Department and the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office.”

Although there wasn’t enough evidence to bring criminal charges, the statement said, “the District’s independent investigation concluded that Blake had violated the District’s sexual harassment policy and code of conduct. Blake has been on leave from the school district since November pending the completion of a comprehensive external investigation and termination proceedings.”

The school officials said they’re continuing to cooperate with the Duxbury Police Department, the Plymouth County district attorney’s office and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

“We ask anyone who has information regarding this case to please call or text the District’s anonymous tip line at 781-285-7184 or contact the Duxbury Police Department at 781- 934-5656 ext. 1185,” the statement said.

The Duxbury Police Department addressed the matter in a separate statement.

“The Duxbury Police Department has been made aware that a Civil Lawsuit has been filed at Plymouth Distinct Court, by a Duxbury family, against a staff member of the Duxbury Public Schools,” Chief Stephen R. McDonald said in a statement. “Copies of that notification were also sent to local news outlets. In November of 2020, the Duxbury Police Department was contacted by the family who alleged abuse of their son by a member of the Duxbury Public School Staff in the early to middle 2000′s.”

An investigation, McDonald said, “was completed by Duxbury Police Detectives and the Plymouth County District Attorney’s Office was consulted. It was ultimately found that charges could not be brought forward because the alleged victim in the case was deceased. Because of the nature of the case we can release no further information.”

Parker Foley died on Oct. 21, his online obituary says.

He had graduated from Augsburg College in Minneapolis in 2016, the obituary says, and it was “there in Minneapolis that Parker was building his life, working for SmartCare Equipment Solutions and actively engaged in all aspects of his community.”

The obituary said that “Parker believed in living life out loud. From his earliest days, he loved to be with people. He was a good friend, a loving brother, and a caring son. Parker wanted people to feel welcomed, and to be loved and cared for. When a friend was down, Parker was there to lift him up. To know Parker was to experience both the joys of high achievement and the pain of life’s difficulties. Most of all, we remember Parker for the energy, passion, and laughter he shared with everyone who was lucky enough to have walked beside him.”

Blake has long been a prominent figure in local scholastic hockey circles.

He took over as Duxbury boys’ hockey coach in December 2003, after one season as the boys’ varsity coach at Cohasset.

The program had immediate success, being selected for the MIAA Division 1 (also known as the “Super 8”) tournament in 2004, then winning the first of three Division 1 state championships under Blake in 2005.

Duxbury also won state championships in 2007 and 2019, and played in the Division 1A tournament in 2006 and 2014. Blake has compiled 225 total victories in his 18 seasons at the school.

Blake also has served as interim boys’ golf coach at Duxbury, leading the team to a Division 2 state championship in 2006. He is a three-time recipient of the Globe’s Coach of the Year for boys’ hockey -- in 2004, 2007 and 2019.

Jim Clark of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondent Andrew Stanton contributed to this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.