Seattle schools to pay $3 million in sex-abuse case
Seattle Public Schools will pay two students a total of $3 million in what plaintiffs say is the largest legal settlement by a Washington...
Seattle Times education reporter
Seattle Public Schools will pay two students a total of $3 million in what plaintiffs say is the largest legal settlement by a Washington school district.
The district agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by the students in the case of former Seattle fifth-grade teacher Laurence E. "Shayne" Hill, 58, who was sentenced in 2005 to more than five years in prison for molesting students during the 20-plus years he worked for Seattle Public Schools.
Of the $3.05 million, $2.5 million will go to a now-17-year-old former student of Hill's whom the lawsuit said Hill molested for two years, beginning in 2001.
Over his two-decade career at Broadview-Thomson Elementary School in North Seattle, three principals and even the superintendent ignored 30 reports from at least 15 other teachers about Hill, according to the lawsuit.
Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Patti Spencer said the district "has taken responsibility for the inappropriate behavior of its former employee."
Partly in response to the case, the district has strengthened its training of teachers and administrators to help them recognize grooming behavior, she said. The district's policy is that if teachers or administrators see a clear violation, they should report it to the police.
"We've learned a lot from that experience, and it reinforced what we knew was a need," Spencer said.
The settlement is paid out of a risk-management pool that operates like an insurance policy for the district.
Hill was arrested in 2005 after the mother of one of his victims walked in on him touching her 11-year-old daughter's buttocks. He resigned before the district could complete an investigation and pleaded guilty to first- and second-degree molestation.
Police said a total of seven girls told detectives that Hill had touched or kissed them. The lawsuit also alleged that Hill kept a rubber breast and phallus in his desk drawer and that he groomed the primary victim with gifts and letters before sexually assaulting her over two years. Hill even molested one student on his lap in the back of his classroom while his other students watched a movie.
Ron Bemis, an attorney for the victims, said Hill was a popular teacher, so people overlooked his sexual horseplay with girls in the hallways, hand-holding on the playground, and other inappropriate behavior in public.
"It was kind of the open secret within Broadview-Thomson Elementary School. The teachers knew about it, but parents didn't know about it. The police didn't know about it," Bemis said.
Plaintiffs say the settlement is the largest paid by a Washington school district.
The student who settled for $2.5 million has struggled with self-esteem and with trusting authority figures since the abuse occurred, Bemis said. She has attempted suicide and struggled with cutting her thighs and arms.
Her mother received $250,000 as part of the settlement.
The rest of the settlement — $300,000 — went to a second victim, who is now 14.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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