NewsEducation / May 30, 2019

IPS Settles 3 Civil Lawsuits In 2016 Sexual Abuse Case

IPS Settles 3 Civil Lawsuits In 2016 Sexual Abuse CaseThree confidential settlements connected to sexual abuse allegations were approved Thursday by the Indianapolis Public Schools Board.Indianapolis Public Schools, sex abuse, Lewis Ferebee2019-05-30T00:00:00-04:00
IPS Settles 3 Civil Lawsuits In 2016 Sexual Abuse Case

The IPS School Board meets Feb. 23, 2016 -- the same day IPS staff reported sexual abuse allegations concerning a high school student to the state, six days after learning of it.

Eric Weddle/WFYI News

Three confidential settlements connected to sexual abuse allegations were approved Thursday by the Indianapolis Public Schools Board.

Former Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and current and former members of the board of commissioners were named as defendants in the three civil lawsuits.

In 2016 the district terminated the contracts for William Jensen, former assistant principal of Positive Supports Academy, and Deborah Leser, former director of student services. At the time, the IPS Board said both failed to properly report sex abuse allegations to the Department of Child Services in a timely manner. The allegations were initially made by a parent against a guidance counselor.

Indiana law requires school officials to immediately report instances of suspected child abuse.

Jensen and Leser each sued the district in federal court, arguing their due process rights were violated when they were fired.

A male high school student, identified by his initials, also filed suit in federal court against IPS. He claimed he was sexually abused and harassed by his counselor, and some in the school were aware of the inappropriate relationship.

IPS denied the claims detailed in the three civil cases, according to court documents. In agreeing to the settlemets, the former employees and student agreed to dismiss their cases. 

The IPS Board approved the settlements as part of its consent agenda during Thursday's meeting.

“While the details of this case are confidential, the IPS Board of School Commissioners and the Administration are happy that we were able to reach a settlement with (the) parties,” the district said in a written statement. “The safety of our students has been, and continues to be, our top priority.”

Read: IPS Settlement With Jensen and Leser

Read: IPS Settlement With Student

The case began Feb. 17, 2016, when the mother of the teen victim showed a Longfellow Academy staffer social media messages, text messages and inappropriate photos between the student and counselor Shana Taylor.

Later that day, Jensen was one of four staffers who met with the parent, according to court documents.

Jensen was then told by Leser to notify IPS Human Resources Director Lela "Tina" Hester. According to court documents, Hester asked caseworker Shalon Dabney to investigate the allegations.

On Feb. 18, Hester sent an email to the district's former chief strategist Le Boler that appears to suggest hiding the sexual abuse allegations from the police.

"I asked that the school police stay out of it so that she is not charged and we can handle from an HR perspective, but I don't know if the mom plans to file charges," Hester wrote in the email.

An investigation found Hester and Dabney had evidence that Taylor had sex with the teenager in her office but waited six days to report it to state authorities, on Feb. 23, 2016.

Hester and Dabney were charged with a misdemeanor for not immediately reporting sexual abuse allegations between a guidance counselor and student. Both resigned after Ferebee recommended they be fired. They entered a diversion program that would allow their charges to be dropped.

Ferebee recommended the IPS Board terminate Jensen and Lester for not reporting the suspected abuse to child protective services. Both attempted to fight termination during a closed-door hearing -- arguing that senior staff instructed them to delay reporting.

Jensen’s court filing stated IPS Board members rolled their eyes and played with their phones during a hearing over his employment.

In her court filing, Leser alleged a cover-up by Ferebee, to keep the allegations quiet until the school board approved a 6 percent raise in his salary.

At least 12 IPS officials, including Ferebee, knew about the allegations against Taylor six days before it was reported to DCS on Feb. 23, 2016.

Previously, Ferebee has said he did not know the teacher and student were having sex and that he believed Hester had followed procedures to report any allegations.

The Washington Post recently published, for the first time, an email from Boler to Ferebee on Feb. 17, 2016 where Boler describes an “intimate relationship” between a student and a “female teacher.”

Ferebee thanks Boler for the message.

Ferebee was recently questioned about the case during his confirmation to become chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. Ferebee was approved for the job by the D.C. council. 

Taylor was charged with nine felony counts of child seduction and two other charges. As part of a plea agreement in 2017, Taylor pled guilty to three felony counts of dissemination of matter harmful to minors. She was sentenced to six years of home detention.

Contact WFYI education reporter Eric Weddle at eweddle@wfyi.org or call (317) 614-0470. Follow on Twitter: @ericweddle.

 

 

 

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