Settlement being finalized in student harassment claim against Roaring Fork School District
A lawsuit filed by a former Glenwood Springs High School student and her family against the local school district and a GSHS administrator/coach is headed for a settlement.
In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Denver in January 2020 — Jane Doe vs. Roaring Fork School District and Patrick Engle — the family alleged district and school officials mishandled a student harassment case involving their daughter and other students in the fall of 2017.
Plaintiffs said their daughter was subjected to ongoing harassment stemming from a sexual assault incident in which she was victimized by a male student in October 2016. The male student was a junior at the time, and the female a sophomore.
Plaintiffs said Engle, the assistant principal and football coach at GSHS, and others failed to properly deal with the ongoing harassment that was occurring.
The case was scheduled to go to trial starting June 28.
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But a series of motions over the past four months, including one by Engle to dismiss the case against him individually, culminated in an April 23 Notice of Settlement in the case.
“The parties are in the process of finalizing that resolution and intend to file a notice of dismissal shortly,” according to the latest filing in the case.
Vail attorney John Clune, who’s with Boulder-based attorneys Hutchinson, Black and Cook, LLC, said he expects the dismissal to come in the next week or so.
“We have agreed not to go into the terms of the settlement,” he said. “But I can say the client is happy with it, and both parties thought it was a satisfactory outcome.”
Roaring Fork Schools Public Information Officer Kelsy Been said the district learned in April that its insurer had elected to settle the case, rather than continue litigating.
“After a lawsuit is tendered to the insurer, decisions about whether to litigate, whether to settle, and how much to settle for are exclusive decisions of the insurer,” Been said.
She also declined to disclose the terms of the settlement.
The lawsuit applied the Title IX equal protection provisions under federal law, and therefore was filed in federal instead of district court.
According to the lawsuit, the female student, identified only as “Jane Doe” in the suit, didn’t report the sexual assault to authorities until the following summer.
School and district officials were ultimately made aware of the incident and the ongoing harassment at the hands of the perpetrator and some of his friends over the course of the 2017-18 school year. However, plaintiffs said nothing was done to protect the female student while both students were attending GSHS.
The male student, a member of the football team who was identified as “John Smith” in the lawsuit, ultimately accepted a plea deal in juvenile court in spring 2018, and was sentenced to probation and sexual abuse counseling.
For the school district’s part, after initially being expelled from school as punishment, he was allowed to return and graduate with his class toward the end of the school year.
Meanwhile, the victim’s parents said their daughter became depressed, suffered academically and eventually changed schools as a result.
Among the most recent actions in the case, on Dec. 29, 2020, U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson denied Engle’s motion to dismiss the claims made against him individually, which Engle then appealed.
A pre-trial evidentiary hearing was also in the works at the request of the plaintiffs, alleging the school district had withheld key findings by a third-party consultant called in during the spring of 2018 to do an external review of policies and procedures in the matter.
In a Dec. 16, 2020 motion seeking sanctions against the defendant “for spoliation of evidence,” Clune argued that an initial report by investigator Larry Nesbit was far more critical of the district than what was ultimately reported by Superintendent Rob Stein to the school board and the student’s parents.
That third-party review, however, did result in seven recommendations issued to the district by Nesbit in a May 2019 report regarding future protocols when student harassment claims are made. Those included:
- Establishing better investigation protocols
- Ensuring proper use of the student disciplinary/expulsion process
- Better training for secondary administrators on student discipline matters
- Regular updates of disciplinary policies
- Affirming school board and administrator roles
- Removal of inconsistencies in the process
- Providing better student education on sexual responsibility.
“The school district revamped relevant practices long before the lawsuit was filed, including from the recommendations of the third-party consultant the district hired,” Been said Monday.
Clune acknowledged that the district has changed its policies and procedures for the better in the aftermath of the incident.
“I do know that the school district has actually made progress, and implemented some significant changes,” he said. “They are making an effort to do better.”
Clune said the plaintiff student is now attending college, and is “getting better and on the right track.”
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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