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13 students join lawsuits against Overland Park's St. Thomas Aquinas and ex-choir director

St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School in Overland Park.
Shawnee Mission Post
Image via Google
St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School in Overland Park.

Joseph Heidesch was arrested in October 2021 and charged with 30 felony counts for hiding a camera in his office and watching students change. This summer was sentenced to five years and eight months in a Kansas prison.

Joseph Heidesch, the former choir director at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, and the school itself face another lawsuit connected to Heidesch’s illegal taping of students undressing in his office.

The latest lawsuit, filed in Johnson County District Court on Sept. 29, lists 13 unnamed women, all former choir students of Heidesch’s, and some of their parents as plaintiffs.

The lawsuit said all 13 women enrolled at St. Thomas Aquinas between 2012 and 2019, and their current counties of residence include Johnson County, Leavenworth County and Jackson County, Missouri.

It’s the sixth lawsuit filed against Heidesch and the private Catholic school in the past year related to Heidesch’s secret videotaping of female students changing inside his school office.

The lawsuit alleges invasion of privacy and outrageous conduct. Court documents say the victims are suing Heidesch for invading their privacy and causing emotional distress. The plaintiffs are also suing the school itself for not protecting students against Heidesch and ensuring a safe educational environment.

The lawsuit repeats facts contained in previous civil lawsuits and Heidesch’s criminal case, that he hid cameras in his office that he used to watch students as they changed into choir robes, which he required to be worn in class.

If students objected to wearing the robes, the suit says, Heidesch used his “authority as a teacher and choir director” to force students to change and assured them his office door had a “special door lock” to ensure their privacy.

Each of the victims is seeking $75,000 in damages for medical and counseling expenses they incurred due to Heidesch’s actions.

Sentenced in June

Heidesch reached a plea deal with prosecutors last December and this summer was sentenced to five years and eight months in a Kansas prison. He was initially arrested in October 2021 before being charged with 30 felony counts for hiding the camera in his office and watching students change. After he's released, he will be required to register as a sex offender, according to his plea deal.

Heidesch committed these crimes for years. Court records initially alleged Heidesch recorded students changing in his office from January 2019 to September of 2021. Then last summer, Heidesch was charged with 24 new counts of breach of privacy for recordings that went back to August of 2016. He pleaded guilty to one count of possession of sexually exploitative material involving a minor and 25 counts of breach of privacy in a December plea deal.

The latest lawsuit, like the five previously filed civil suits, says Heidesch “collected and curated” the secretly shot videos in files on his computer labeled with students’ names.

The plaintiffs say the school “failed its duty to care to implement and enforce training, policies and procedures designed to adequately and effectively identify and prevent harassment and sexual misconduct by teachers toward minor students.”

This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.

Lucie Krisman is a reporter for The Shawnee Mission Post.
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