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LAUSD asks judge to OK teacher abuse settlement after family balks

EducationElementary SchoolsSchoolsLos Angeles Unified School DistrictTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemCrime
L.A. Unified says boy's family agreed to a teacher abuse settlement but walked away from the deal
Family's lawyer says LAUSD teacher abuse settlement is 'not in the best interests of the child.'

The Los Angeles Unified School District on Friday requested that a judge approve a settlement agreement with the family of a student who alleged that he was molested by a onetime Telfair Elementary School teacher.

District officials contend that they had reached a settlement in the case involving Paul Chapel III, a former third-grade teacher, but that the family walked away from the pact following the conclusion of two other related claims.

Attorney Thomas Cifarelli, who represents the boy and two other students who also had settled claims, said the mother changed her mind after learning the scope of the case. He said that she no longer felt that the agreement was appropriate.

"The settlement is not in the best interests of the child," he said. "They [L.A. Unified] are now trying to force the mother to accept that settlement and we are very confident that they won't succeed."

Neither Cifarelli, nor the district, would disclose the amount of the settlement. A hearing was scheduled for Monday.

Chapel pleaded no contest to 13 counts of lewd acts on a child in 2012 and was sentenced to 25 years in prison. The molestations of seven girls and six boys occurred from September 2006 to April 2011, officials said. All the children were students at Telfair in Pacoima.

Last month, the district agreed to pay $5 million to settle two legal claims from students who alleged they were molested by Chapel. One plaintiff will receive $3 million, and the other $2 million. Both students were represented by Cifarelli.

Those claims were made public during the time that L.A. Unified and the family were awaiting approval on the deal from the judge, said Sean Rossall, a spokesman for the district.

It was then that the family backed away from the agreement, which they had signed, he said.

The money paid in settlements has a direct effect on the district's general fund, since it is used to pay for schools, Rossall said.

"We felt the case was settled in a manner that adequately provided for the future health and educational needs of the student," Rossall said. "We want to be fair to victims, but that has to be balanced with the educational needs of the 600,000 students we serve."

Cifarelli, who did not represent the student when the agreement was reached, said the family now intends to take the case to trial.

"This settlement will not be imposed on the mother," he said. "It would only be in the best interest of L.A. Unified. It's a relatively modest settlement."

The Chapel case emerged publicly soon after L.A. Unified's largest abuse scandal. At Miramonte Elementary School, a third-grade teacher was charged with more than two dozen lewd acts; the district has paid $30 million in settlements and millions of dollars in legal fees in that case.

As of May 31, the district had spent about $6.7 million in legal fees to two law firms for work related to Miramonte.

Attorney Luis Carrillo, who represents 25 students and family members in claims against L.A. Unified in the Miramonte case, said the district is wasting school funds.

"These numbers are gross and unconscionable," Carrillo said. "Taxpayers are paying the lawyers to delay and drag out litigation for their own benefit, not the benefit of students."

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

Twitter: @stephenceasar

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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EducationElementary SchoolsSchoolsLos Angeles Unified School DistrictTrials and ArbitrationJustice SystemCrime
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