KUSA — The Cherry Creek School District will pay a $11.5 million settlement to the victims of a Prairie Middle School teacher who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing five students over a five-year period.
Two school administrators have been indicted and accused of not reporting the allegations of assault against 34-year-old Brian Vasquez.
“We acknowledge that no amount of money can right the wrongs committed against these students by Mr. Vasquez,” a statement released by Cherry Creek School District on Monday afternoon read. “No student should ever suffer the injury and loss of innocence that these young women suffered as a result of the reprehensible actions of Mr. Vasquez. The district is committed to doing right by these young women and their families and hopes this settlement brings some degree of closure so that they can move on with their lives and continue the healing process.”
In a letter to parents, the district said it was establishing a task force to review practices and procedures in wake of the incident. It is also working on training for all of its employees and implement pilot programs to give parents and students the skills to recognize and respond to inappropriate situations.
Taxpayers are paying $9.5 million of the settlement, a district spokesperson told 9NEWS. The other $2 million comes from an insurance company representing Cherry Creek Schools.
According to a grand jury indictment, Vasquez had an inappropriate sexual relationship with his first victim in 2013. Since then, he has admitted to engaging in an improper sexual relationship with four other girls. The 35-year-old pleaded guilty in July to three counts of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, pattern of abuse, a Class 3 felony; one count of sexual exploitation of a child, a Class 3 felony; one count of attempted sexual exploitation of a child, a Class 4 felony; and one count of internet sexual exploitation of a child, a Class 4 felony.
The victims' lawyer, Qusair Mohamedbhai, has been working with them for around a year.
He told 9NEWS through this process, the sincerity from district officials as they apologized to the victims, including the superintendent, has been helpful for their recovery.
“We go from moments of shock to moments of just utmost despair and sadness," Mohamedbhai said. "This is a closing chapter for them. They are looking forward to working on their survivorship.”
Mohamedbhai said the settlement money will help with that.
“Two of the clients are really focused on themselves, on their mental health, and preparing themselves to hopefully be in a place where they can return to school,” Mohamedbhai said. “The others...one is still in high school. We expect her to graduate and two are attending college.”
Mohamedbhai said a major motivation for the victims to come forward was to try to protect other students. In an earlier release, Mohamedbhai said his clients "appreciated the substantial policy changes and focused determination by Cherry Creek School District to ensure that their lifelong trauma will hopefully never be experienced by another student in Colorado."
Vasquez will be sentenced on Sept. 28 and faces a sentence ranging from 40 years to life in prison.
Two school administrators have also been indicted in connection to the incidents: Adrienne (“AJ”) Macintosh, a dean at the school at the time, and David Gonzalez, the school principal at the time, after the teen girl in 2013 reported the abuse to them, according to the indictment.
But instead of reporting the abuse to law enforcement, as they are required by law, the indictment says Macintosh and Gonzalez told the victim that her testimony would damage the career and life of a good teacher.
When the victim recanted, she was suspended from school for the purported reason that she "made up a false allegation against Vasquez," according to the indictment.
According to the indictment, both said they knew the rules of mandatory reporting of child abuse to law enforcement.
But Macintosh told the grand jury while she never had any type of training in investigation procedures, she believed it was her individual responsibility to conduct her own personal investigation. Macintosh also told the grand jury she had no memory of the 14-year-old girl disclosing sexual abuse by Vasquez.
Gonzalez testified to the grand jury that he too had no memory of the victim disclosing abuse by Vasquez. The indictment also says Gonzalez said he didn’t remember any disciplinary proceedings against the victim.
You can read the full letter sent to Cherry Creek parents about the settlement below:
Dear Cherry Creek Schools Parents and Guardians:
I believe it is important to keep parents and guardians informed when there is a major development in the district that impacts our community. I also want to make sure district parents and guardians learn of such developments before they are covered by the news media.
To that end, I want to share with you some important information. Through a mediator, the district has reached a total settlement with the victims of Brian Vasquez, former teacher at Prairie Middle School, for the amount of $11.5 million.
We acknowledge that no amount of money can right the wrongs committed against these students by Mr. Vasquez. No student should ever suffer the injury and loss of innocence that these young women suffered as a result of the reprehensible actions of Mr. Vasquez. The district is committed to doing right by these young women and their families and hopes this settlement brings some degree of closure so that they can move on with their lives and continue the healing process.
I also want you to know that we are constantly working to evaluate and strengthen our safety and security procedures. Specifically:
• We established a task force that reviewed our practices and procedures,
• We strengthened our mandatory reporting protocol,
• We trained all of our more than 9,000 employees in school safety strategies, including mandatory reporting and how to identify signs of abuse,
• We worked closely with the District Attorney’s Office and Department of Human Services to shape new protocols and training procedures,
• We implemented Sungate and Blue Bench pilot programs, which are designed to give students and their parents skills in recognizing and responding to inappropriate situations,
• We are also working to educate all of our students about how to identify dangerous behavior and the importance of reporting to a trusted adult.
There is absolutely no higher priority in the Cherry Creek School District than the safety and wellbeing of our students.
Scott A. Siegfried, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools