The Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to pay $88 million in damages to settle sexual abuse lawsuits filed against two teachers. According to reports, the allegations involve over 30 children at two different elementary schools. Prior to their arrests, the accused teachers were suspected of having inappropriate interactions with children on numerous occasions.
As reported by LA Times, the schools involved are Telfair Avenue Elementary in Pacoima and De La Torre Elementary in Wilmington.
In 2011, a parent filed a formal complaint against Telfair Avenue Elementary teacher Paul Chapel. As stated in the complaint, Chapel was accused of kissing female and male students during class. Although several children confirmed the allegations, Paul continued to teach for six more weeks.
— Vishakha. S. (@VishakhaNS) May 17, 2016
According to court documents, Paul Chapel is accused of sexually assaulting more than a dozen students during his decade-long career as a teacher. In addition to kissing his students, the former teacher is accused of touching the children’s genitals.
The accusations were specifically disturbing, as Paul Chapel was dismissed from a private elementary school for allegedly abusing a male student. When he was hired at Telfair Avenue Elementary, his former colleagues at Andasol Elementary made it clear that Chapel was known for taking students on unauthorized field trips, holding children on his lap, and allowing students to stay in his classroom during recess and lunch time.
Chapel eventually pleaded no contest to charges of sexual abuse and is currently serving a 25-year sentence. His case led to a revolutionary change in the Los Angeles Unified School District policy, which includes mandatory notice to students’ families when a teacher is accused of sexual misconduct.
De La Torre Elementary teacher Robert Pimentel also faced numerous accusations of sexual misconduct in the years prior to his arrest.
In 2002, former Los Angeles Unified School District Principal Irene Hinojosa filed several complaints against Pimentel, accusing him of inappropriate behavior, including slapping the buttocks of young girls and caressing their calves.
When questioned about the reports, Robert said his behavior was influenced by medication, which increased his hormones. Interestingly, the Los Angeles Unified School District accepted the explanation.
— Wes Hall (@weshall217) May 16, 2016
Three years later, Hinojosa received a search warrant requesting Pimentel’s personnel files. According to reports, the teacher was being investigated for the sexual abuse of a relative who was a minor.
A full investigation into Robert Pimentel’s interactions with students was not launched until 2009 when senior regional administrator Linda Del Cueto received a memo stating more than 12 students filed complaints about their teacher’s inappropriate behavior.
Although he later pleaded guilty to sexually abusing four girls and is currently serving a 12-year sentence, parents were concerned that Pimentel’s behavior was ignored for seven years.
The Telfair case involved a total of 12 children, whereas the De La Torre case included 18 children and 19 parents. Officials confirmed the Los Angeles Unified School District eventually agreed to a settlement of $18 million, which will be distributed amongst the plaintiffs.
Los Angeles Unified School District attorney George McNair said, “we’re glad that we’re able to resolve both of these cases so we can avoid painful litigation and put these cases behind us. We’re turning a corner here because we’ve resolved the last two very large cases that were involving the district.”
Fox News reports the settlements come on the heels of a settlement with Miramonte Elementary, where teacher Mark Berndt was accused of abusing students for several years. Berndt is currently serving a 25-year sentence, and the Los Angeles Unified School District was ordered to pay the victims a total of $175 million.
The three schools are at different ends of an expansive school system. However, the three schools share certain similarities. The sexual abuse cases involved veteran teachers, who raised questions about their behavior in the past but were not dismissed for their actions, and the schools are all located in low-income communities.
Although the Los Angeles Unified School District scandals were devastating for the students and their families, school officials said the cases prompted better rules and more oversight to prevent similar issues in the future.
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