Teachers Accused Of Running Cult-Like Group In School

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | 1 month ago

school cult

Leesburg High School’s band director, Gabriel Fielder, and the school counselor,  Lenny Finelli, resigned after allegations that their student group was “cult-like.” Named The Elder Council, this school cult operated at Fielder’s 13-acre farm. It was here that students were put to work and told to ask no questions.

Fielder worked at the Leesburg High School for 20 years. He formed the school cult in 2018 as a religious opportunity. Students who attended for bible study were given chores to do in preparation for the apocalypse. He demanded that participants tithe, and began tracking them through the Life360 app. Fielder convinced students not to tell their parents these details, and even admitted to one former member, “They’re going to think we’re a cult.”

His manipulative behavior was built on the premise that he was closer to God than the students. He considered himself a divine being and controlled the group by stating, “‘If I’m wrong, then God’s going to correct me, you guys don’t need to correct me.” As time went on, the school cult-like behavior began to alarm relatives. Parents and friends who questioned the group were decried by Fielder. 

Cults are generally defined by their unorthodox religious practices performed by a small close-knit group. Depending on how long they operate they can become so influential that members turn their backs on caring friends and family, as well as follow leaders who abuse power. Cult leaders use manipulation tactics which compel members to believe they must adhere to whatever rules are given to them. They are tracked and even sometimes expected to pay fees to achieve high standing with their leader — who is exalted as a God-like figure, or a being who is closer to their creator than anyone else. These characteristics were not unknown to the school cult members, but being that the group did not last long enough to do severe damage, no charges have been filed.  

The school cult started to fall apart last year after one of the students involved discussed the group with a therapist. The student had accused Finelli, the school counselor, of asking sexual questions and then later dating him once they graduated and was of age. But while still a minor student, Fielder advised them to delete sexual texts sent by Finelli. This now former student admitted, “It rocked me to think that I could be in a cult and that everything in my life is completely wrong.”  

Even though this individual realized what was taking place, the student also expressed empathy for Fielder, going so far as to question whether he intentionally ran the school cult, and stating that “I honestly don’t believe it was completely malicious.” It is cases like these that lead the mind to wonder. Being that many people’s images of cults are formed based on extreme cases like the Manson Family, the Jim Jones cult (that ended with murder-suicide), and David Koresh’s ranch, The Elder Council seems tame by comparison, but that does not remove the fact that a group of students were isolated and manipulated by a trusted community teacher. 

school cult

The Leesburg High School denies that the group was a school cult. District investigators stated that they could not find evidence to prove that it was a cult, and that The Elder Council had no affiliation with the school. Both Fielder and Finelli resigned to avoid further scandal and no arrests have been made.