Pike County, PA (PRWEB) January 11, 2010 -- The Delaware Valley School District and its insurer have agreed to pay $815,859 to a former elementary school student who was sexually abused by her teacher. The lawsuit (Civil action # 08-CV-581) filed on behalf of the Freeman family by Jack Cohen, Esquire, of Levy, Baldante, Finney, Rubenstein, Cohen & Chizmar, P.C. contends that school officials, including former Principal Robert L. Smith and former Superintendent James Melody, and current Superintendent Dr. Candis Finan, failed to heed numerous warnings about the teacher's conduct. The student, now 18-years-old, suffers from a multitude of psychological and social concerns.
The former student, identified as SF in the lawsuit, was a 7-year-old at Shohola Elementary School when she was sexually abused by Thomas Harvey Matthews, 51, her third grade teacher. Several years earlier the District had knowledge and documentation of Matthews' inappropriate behavior toward several students and one teacher but "failed to take necessary action", according to Cohen as stated in the civil suit filed in The United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
In 2000, four years after the alleged incident with SF, a female student of Matthews' came forward with allegations of sexual abuse. Later that year the District agreed to actively conceal Matthews' unlawful conduct in exchange for his alleged "voluntary resignation", and was even offered employment verification for a new teaching position in Virginia. Says Cohen, "All of these actions by the District and its officials demonstrate a clear evidence of deliberate indifference of the victims to the heinous actions of Matthews."
In the criminal case against Matthews in 2006, Matthews was sentenced to eleven and one-half years to twenty-four years for crimes committed against his former students. The sentence provides that he will serve his time in a state correctional institution. Prior to the sentence, Matthews was also held as a "sexually violent predator" under Pennsylvania's version of Meghan's Law.
The civil case, which was settled on December 17, 2009 (Civil action # 08-CV-581) in the United States District Court, Middle District of Pennsylvania, concludes that the district, principal and superintendents should have taken immediate action against Matthews.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of suits against school districts alleging that the districts knew or should have known of potential sexual abuse and failed to investigate the allegations adequately. "This case was especially egregious because there were so many signs that Matthews was a predator to the young children at the school," says Cohen, "The District, responsible for the caring of these children, did absolutely nothing to protect them from this monster. As parents we trust our school administrators and principals will act in our children's best interests, yet sadly this does not always happen, and this case is a perfect example of what happens when those in charge turn a blind eye."
"Principals and administrators want to believe it couldn't happen in their town," said Cohen. "Schools need to be vigilant, and hopefully this settlement will lead to increased programming for teachers and administrators."
The former student's parents, Karen and Matthew Freeman called on the superintendent and the school board to raise public awareness of the problem.
"The suit was never about financial compensation," said Mrs. Freeman. "Rather, we believe it was a necessary vehicle to raise the district's consciousness toward issues concerning the manipulation of power by a teacher over his or her students and the failure of administrators and the district to recognize and report such an abuse of power."
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