In rare instance of accountability, a former student abused by one of his teachers will receive a $6 million settlement from the school district:
Vince Finaldi, an attorney for the former high school student, said the egregious conduct of Redlands Unified School administrators in the case warranted what may be one of the largest single-victim sex abuse settlements by a public agency.
“The size of this settlement represents the gravity of the damage done to this young victim and his family and it also highlights the extreme malfeasance and neglect by school officials who turned a blind eye to the criminal conduct of a teacher and failed to protect a student,” Finaldi said.
Laura Whitehurst faced 41 felony counts of unlawful sex acts. She faced a potential 29-year prison sentence. She chose to plead guilty to six counts of lesser offences, resulting in a one-year jail sentence. She was released after six months and placed on probation. She was also required to register a sex offender, but otherwise faced no other penalty. She also shares custody of the child that resulted from her abuse of the student.
The former student’s attorneys argued that the school officials were culpable because they knew of the abuse but nothing to stop it. School district officials agreed to a settlement, although it appears for purely public relation reasons:
District spokesman Tom DeLapp said the district is “not pleased with this outcome” but settled “this tragic case once and for all so we can move forward.”
“We felt there could be serious damage to the reputation of a very fine school district if the plaintiff’s lawyers were allowed to drag the district and its employees through the mud all over again,” DeLapp said. “In the long run, $6 million is high, but it could have been much higher if this had been left to an empathetic jury in another city looking past the facts to find a financial scapegoat for the unprofessional, criminal actions of one individual.”
That sounds like a fair complaint, except it is not entirely honest:
According to a Redlands police search warrant served shortly after Whitehurst’s arrest, the school district began investigating the accusations but “failed to report suspected child abuse as mandated” to police or social workers until six weeks later on July 1, 2013.
Supt. Lori Rhodes has said the district received the first credible information about a possible relationship on July 1, when the teen’s mother reported it to school officials, who then immediately called the police. Rhodes said that the pair in May had denied the relationship and provided plausible explanations for their association.
According the Manly, “There was a picture of her in the birthing suite circulated to people at the school with the boy. The principal wrote an email about the photo.”
In this instance, the settlement seems fair. It appears the school district knew about the abuse and did as little as possible to address it. They had a legal and moral responsibility to stop the abuse, and their failure to do so should make them civilly culpable. School officials cannot ignore this type of behavior, regardless of their love of the teacher involved or their perception of the student.
I am curious to see if more students abused by teachers will sue the school districts. While I do not agree with filing suits for the sake of filing them, in too many instances the faculty and staff seem to know of the inappropriate interactions between the teachers and students yet fail to do anything to end it. Fear of a lawsuit may cause the schools to act more prodigiously.