HOLLAND, N.Y. — It's a small, tight-knit community about 40 minutes south of the city.
But now Holland is under the microscope.
The Holland Central School District is facing seven lawsuits under the New York Child Victims Act. Filed in early summer, the lawsuits involve alleged sexual abuse during the late 1970s and early 1980s -- all tied to former middle school math teacher Carl Penziul.
“There were so many red flags here,” said attorney Jeff Herman, who filed the lawsuits. “So many times that we believe it was known. They knew and they should've known -- as we alleged -- that he was unsafe. And nothing was done to protect the children."
Herman Law represents all seven victims. Two have chosen to remain anonymous in lawsuits, while five have chosen to use initials.
At the time of the alleged abuse from 1977 to 1981, the victims ranged in age from 9 to 14 years old.
According to one of the lawsuits, one of the victims reported the abuse to the Holland principal at the time, but nothing happened until 1981.
Three of the suits also name the former Boys Club of Holland -- now known as the Boys and Girls Club of Holland -- as a defendant.
Those suits detail alleged abuse happening at both the middle school and on the Boys Club grounds involving Penziul, who was a young teacher at the time.
“They’re cases in many ways that I see all the time in terms of adults in the room not doing the right thing,” Herman said. “Adults in the room looking the other way."
Two of the seven survivors agreed to share their stories with 7 Eyewitness News.
"I have a group of friends now that nobody else really can penetrate that group because nobody else knows what [we] went through," said R.L., one of the alleged victims.
The former student said Holland was a place he loved calling home.
"I think of a great childhood in Holland and this is something that certainly turned things very seriously—very serious for me very quickly,” R.L. said.
Recently, those haunting memories came flooding back.
“I was angry at myself for letting it happen,” R.L. said. “I felt that I left down my family. And I was certainly embarrassed about that and certain points I felt very alone and there certainly weren't a lot of people willing to talk about it back then other than my family."
This student’s complaint details at least three instances of alleged abuse in the middle school boy's locker room, when he was about 12 years old. It claims the teacher put his hands in the the boy’s pants and touched his genitals.
Another former student also claims abuse at the middle school, the Boys Club and at his home starting in 1977, when he was 9 years old.
"[I was] living in fear,” said E.U., the abuse survivor. “I feel like I've been in a prison in my own head."
His lawsuit stated that twice, teachers came to check on him and his brother while the teacher accused of abuse was babysitting. But nothing was looked into, the suit alleges.
“It's been a tough 40 years," E.U. said of the abuse’s effect on his life.
The man — who now lives in florida — said he turned to drinking and drugs to numb the pain. He is now sober, but not immune to the pain.
“The hell that I went through -- I don't want another child to experience it,” E.U. said. “It's just been that impactful on my life that I — it basically ruined my life."
Both victims are hoping sharing their stories will give strength to other victims of sexual abuse to come forward.
“They say time heals all wounds and it's been a tough road,” E.U. said. “Seek help. Seek therapy."
In a written statement, the current Holland Schools Superintendent said, “The individual named has not worked for the district since the early 1980s. We are disturbed by these allegations as there is nothing more important than the safety and well-being of our students, who are and will always remain our top priority. Out of respect for the legal process, we will refrain from commenting further at this time.”
The Boys & Girls Club of Holland said in a statement, “While the alleged acts took place more than 40 years ago and do not include any current staff, board members or volunteers, we are investigating every aspect of the claims against the organization with the guiding principle that no harm should come to any child under any circumstances. Our thoughts are with the alleged victims and their families.”
All seven civil lawsuits are ongoing in the New York court system, but they appear to already have had an effect on survivors.
“The weight lifted off my shoulders, I can't tell you,” said one survivor. “The tingle I felt in the body and the goosebumps is...finally somebody is listening and that it won't happen again…”
The 7 Eyewitness News I-Team reached out to Penzuil, who appeared to live in the Ithaca area and taught math at Ithaca College, multiple times through phone and email. Penziul did not respond to any of the messages.
The Ithacan newspaper reported on Dec. 1 that Penziul died unexpectedly on Nov. 26.