LAUSD settles Pacoima molestation lawsuit for $5 million

Stock photo from uncle-leo/flickr Creative Commons

The Los Angeles Unified School District will pay $5 million to settle a lawsuit brought by two former students who alleged they were molested by a teacher at Telfair Elementary School in Pacoima, an attorney announced Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleged the district was negligent in its supervision of former teacher Paul Chapel.

Chapel, a third-grade teacher, was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for molesting 13 former students over a roughly four-and-a-half-year period. He pleaded no contest to 13 acts of lewd acts on a child.

The lawsuit contended that Chapel was accused of molesting a boy at his Ventura County home in 1997 and reassigned by the district temporarily to an administrative office. A jury that heard the criminal case against him could not reach a verdict, and he was eventually allowed back into the classroom and assigned to Telfair in 1998, the lawsuit stated.

The LAUSD originally hired Chapel in 1989, according to the suit.

"This is a case where the entire settlement is really based upon emotional damages they (the former students) have suffered," attorney Tom Cifarelli told NBC4. "I've been doing cases like this for 22 years, and in the spectrum of those cases, this is certainly among the largest (settlements) I'm familiar with, that I've ever heard of for a case of this nature -- certainly against L.A. Unified."

LAUSD attorney Dave Holmquist said the district opted to settle the case "in an effort to shield the young children from a long and emotional trial." He said the district acted quickly to remove Chapel from the classroom once the allegations were discovered and then fired him.

"We know that our work to protect students is never done," he said. "While this teacher's dismissal is a prime example of the school district's aggressive stance on housing and terminating teachers for their misconduct, we continue to improve our processes with the goal of identifying and ridding the system of the predators entirely. This will not be easy, but I am confident this goal will be achieved."