John Cádiz Klemack, Mark James
The LA Unified School District will pay $5 million to settle the lawsuit in child abuse cases. John Cádiz Klemack reports from Pacoima for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 11, 2014.
Two girls molested by a teacher at a Pacoima elementary school have reached a $5 million settlement with the Los Angeles Unified School District, attorneys said Wednesday.
The agreement could be one of the largest the district has ever agreed to in a civil settlement if finalized.
Details of the agreement have not been disclosed, but the two former Telfair Elementary School students will divide the settlement, which came on the day the case was set to go to trial.
"It was not easy, it was a very hard-fought case and it resolved as you saw on the doorstep of trial," said Tom Cifarelli, attorney for the plaintiffs
Former third-grade teacher Paul Chapel was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for molesting 13 former students in 2010 and 2011.
The civil lawsuit alleged Chapel molested the girls, who were 8 years old at the time, during school hours and that LAUSD failed to protect them, even though it knew about previous allegations against Chapel and had moved him to Telfair from a Chatsworth school because of those accusations.
"I certainly think based on this case, LA Unified is taking these matters very seriously and prepared to address them and resolve them appropriately," Cifarelli said
The lawsuit is one of several similar complaints LAUSD is facing.
Dave Holmquist, general counsel for the district, released this statement following the announcement of the settlement:
“Student safety has been and will always be a top priority. Everyday District employees work hard to ensure the safest learning environment possible for all students. In 2011, when our dedicated employees learned of allegations of the former teacher’s inappropriate conduct, they, consistent with their training, immediately contacted law enforcement and, consistent with our policies, the teacher was removed from the school site and eventually fired.
"Unfortunately, plaintiffs suffered harm before the teacher’s activities were uncovered. For this reason and in an effort to shield the young children from a long and emotional trial, we are finalizing settlements which we are confident will provide for the future health and educational needs of the students involved.
"We know that our work to protect students is never done. While this teacher’s dismissal is a prime example of the school district’s aggressive stance on housing and terminating teachers for their misconduct, we continue to improve our processes with the goal of identifying and ridding the system of the predators entirely. This will not be easy, but I am confident this goal will be achieved.”
“Over the last few years, we have adopted new policies that are at work each day to ensure our students have a safe environment in which to learn and grow. These efforts have included our mandatory 72 hour notification policy; statewide leadership on legislative reform to streamline the dismissal of teachers accused of misconduct; development of a centralized data warehouse for all records and files related to misconduct; and the creation of a specialized team to investigate allegations of serious misconduct.”
The LAUSD is insured for liability coverage of child abuse cases. However, the district is currently in litigation with its insurance providers following the more than 60 settlements in the Miramonte cases last year.
District officials said Wednesday its premiums are paid and they are hopeful the insurance carriers will take care of their responsibilities. However, settlements and judgements are paid for out of the district's general fund, which is part of its $6 billion operating budget.