LKSD To Pay $3.8M Settlement In Sex Abuse Lawsuit
The Lower Kuskokwim School District has agreed to pay $3.8 million to settle a lawsuit. Attorneys for two girls had sued the district for failing to protect them from sexual abuse at the hands of Christopher Carmichael, 57, a former Bethel elementary school principal.
Carmichael is currently serving a 15-year federal sentence for attempted coercion and enticement of a minor, and a 25-year sentence for sexual abuse of a minor. KYUK spoke with Anchorage Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins, who published a story about LKSD’s settlement on Aug. 16.
KYUK: Kyle, You just published an article about the Lower Kuskokwim School District agreeing to pay an almost $4 million settlement to end a sex abuse lawsuit. What was this lawsuit arguing?
Hopkins: This was the first of two lawsuits filed against the school district that involves Carmichael's years working for the district, specifically his latter years as a principal in Bethel at the elementary school. And what the lawsuit is alleging is that these two children who were former students of his were sexually abused at school by Carmichael, and that his ability to abuse them was kind of enabled by the school district. That the reason he had access to these kids was because of, you know, by virtue of his job as the principal of the school.
KYUK: By agreeing to pay this settlement, is LKSD essentially admitting that it knew about Carmichael's prior problems with students and that it mishandled those prior reports?
Hopkins: They're agreeing to pay this money, right, and in exchange, the lawsuit goes away and the plaintiffs can't come back and file another one. But in that agreement, they specifically say, you know, 'we're not saying we're not admitting guilt,' you know. It's one of those types of settlement agreements where the defendant is not admitting to doing anything wrong, but they're willing to pay out this kind of extraordinary amount of money to make the lawsuit go away.
KYUK: And did the victims or the victims' parents make any statements in the settlement hearings?
Hopkins: I did talk to the mother of one of the girls yesterday who, she's making this ask that, it has a little bit of precedent, but it would be unusual. She's making this ask that the State of Alaska, the Department of Education, step in and appoint a trustee who would kind of really have authority over the school district, who would then investigate, you know, this matter as to what was known and when, you know, who knew what, why, you know, what actions were taken. And if this trustee were to find that, you know, people enabled this behavior, the mother's asking that those people, basically that they be removed, removed from the district. And so that's the unusual part here. And it's probably a little unlikely, because the State Department of Education says that there's not necessarily a mechanism to do that: to kind of put a trustee in place for these matters that they would consider to be, like, personnel issues.
KYUK: That's interesting. Has LKSD made any statement in response to that mother, or in general about these cases?
Hopkins: They said that they're confident in their response to date. That they, you know, their position seems to be that they and, you know, went kind of above and beyond any, in any standard that exists in other schools in Alaska to make sure that, you know, that their employees, their administrator, administrators are being trained, kind of with, you know, the best knowledge available on how to spot grooming behavior. How to prevent, you know, sexual abuses. How to, how to not enable this type of behavior in the future. So their, their position is there's, you know, there's a new policy, and there's a new system in place that would prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future. And that, you know, certainly they're arguing that no state intervention would be necessary.
KYUK: And this settlement was for $3.8 million, which will be paid out to to victims. Compared to other school sexual abuse lawsuits that you've looked at, is that a lot of money?
Hopkins: It sure seems to be. I mean, this is a large payout for two plaintiffs. It might be the largest per plaintiff that we found among, you know, from the information we were able to get. This seems like, this seems like a pretty severe penalty for the school district.
KYUK: And as you mentioned, this is not the only sexual abuse lawsuit that LKSD was facing. What's going on with the other one?
Hopkins: That one is by two other plaintiffs. In my understanding, it doesn't involve any of the children who were kind of identified in the state charges, right? So these would be kids who we haven't really heard about before. And there's a Fairbanks firm that's handling that case. That case is still scheduled for a trial on Nov. 1, and it's really unclear if that'll be settled. I talked to the attorney for the school district who said that case is, you know, the facts of that case are very different than the one that was just settled, and they do intend to fight that, some of that. It doesn't mean they won't settle, but what the attorney said today was they do intend to fight that lawsuit.
KYUK reached out to LKSD Superintendent Kimberly Hankins to ask her about the settlement. She referred KYUK to the attorney who is representing LKSD in this matter, Don Austin. Austin would not talk with KYUK about the settlement, citing ongoing litigation.