A longtime teacher in Montgomery County was found guilty of sexually abusing four students in a case that came to light after an 11-year-old who took a “body safety” class at school reported that he had inappropriately touched her.
Prosecutors say that John Vigna, 50, who taught at Cloverly Elementary School in the Silver Spring area for more than two decades, was convicted of four counts of sex abuse of a minor and five counts of third-degree sex offense.
Vigna was charged with crimes against five students or former students. The jury convicted Vigna on charges that involved four victims, said Ramon Korionoff, a spokesman for the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Korionoff said the jury announced its verdict early Saturday, shortly after midnight.
“Protecting our children is a top priority,” he said. “Victims deserve justice. The verdict against Mr. Vigna achieves both.”
Many of the allegations against Vigna were related to recent school years, but a woman in her 20s also alleged that Vigna sexually abused her while she was a student at Cloverly during the 2000-2002 school years.
Vigna’s attorney had maintained that his client was falsely accused.
“Mr. Vigna, his family and many supporters were devastated by the jury’s decision,” Thomas C. Morrow, Vigna’s attorney, said. “We will have additional comments at sentencing in August.”
Vigna testified at the trial.
“He continues to vehemently maintain that he had no intentional inappropriate contact with the complainants,” Morrow said.
Vigna was a third-grade teacher when he was put on leave in February 2016, after the allegations surfaced. School officials said they are in the process of dismissing him.
Jack Smith, the Montgomery schools superintendent, said he understood that the case had been difficult for the school. Extra counselors and support staff members would be provided, he said.
“Our thoughts are with the Cloverly Elementary School community,” Smith said in a statement. “I recognize that this has been an extremely difficult time for many students, families and staff members.”
The charges against Vigna came in two waves.
In June 2016, he was accused of forcing one student to sit on his lap and holding her there after she tried to leave. He also is alleged to have squeezed her buttocks at times when she hugged him goodbye. With another student, Vigna was alleged to have improperly rubbed her while hugging her.
Several months later, more charges were filed that involved three other victims. Two girls said Vigna sexually abused them at the school — one in the 2015-2016 school year and the other in the 2013-2014 school year — and the woman in her 20s also came forward.
Vigna, a Silver Spring resident, was described by parents last year as gregarious and popular with children. He helped run an after-school computer club and the school’s student safety patrol. He started with the school system in 1991 at Cloverly Elementary, near the intersection of Briggs Chaney Road and New Hampshire Avenue.
In a 2001 story in the Montgomery County Gazette, he spoke about student writing assignments intended to highlight caring behaviors. “I spend a lot of time with them on developing their character,” Vigna said in the article.
The body safety class that spurred the first report was given in February 2016 and included three lessons. One of the goals was to identify feelings and physical signs associated with good, bad and confusing touches.
After the class, the student reported inappropriate touching, which she said had started 18 months earlier.