Dist. 95 settles teacher molestation suit
Lake Zurich Unit District 95 has settled one of two lawsuits claiming officials ignored complaints about inappropriate sexual conduct by a high school teacher toward a student about eight months before criminal charges were filed against him in 2010.
Without comment, elected officials last month agreed to pay $192,000 to settle the suit that named as defendants the District 95 board, Superintendent Michael Egan, Lake Zurich High School Principal Kim Kolze and Ronald D. Culver, the former English and drama instructor who was charged with molesting two pupils.
District 95 denies any accusations officials mishandled information about Culver, according to the settlement agreement obtained through a Daily Herald Freedom of Information Act request.
"This agreement shall not constitute, or be construed as, an admission, concession of liability or violation of any applicable law by any party to this agreement, nor an admission of the amount of monies claimed in this litigation or given by this agreement," the document states. "Liability is hereby expressly denied."
District 95 still faces a second lawsuit in Lake County circuit court related to Culver.
In August 2011, Culver, an Inverness resident, entered into a plea deal admitting one count of criminal sexual abuse for molesting the two boys. Records show he was freed from prison Aug. 8, 2012, after serving half of his two-year sentence, but he remains on parole and is registered as a sex offender.
Lawyer Michael Aretos, who handled the settled lawsuit filed on behalf of the teenage victim and his parents, wrote in court papers that District 95 employees and board members failed to take action that could have protected the boy from Culver.
The suit alleged the board "was given notice through school administrators and staff of the inappropriate sexual behavior that Ronald D. Culver was engaging in with students" before the boy was molested. The complaint included no specific dates on when notice was given.
Court documents state the pupil, referred to as John Doe Jr., was sexually attacked by Culver at the high school in August and September 2010. Authorities announced in November 2010 that criminal charges were lodged against him for molesting the two pupils.
However, the lawsuit states that eight months earlier, Culver met with John Doe Jr.'s parents, administrators and others at the school regarding the former teacher's sexually charged text messages to the boy from 2008 to 2010. The March 12, 2010, meeting came seven days after the parents viewed Culver's text messages, according to the suit.
At that meeting, Culver admitted to "adult joking" in his text messages to the boy, the suit says.
The lawsuit claimed Egan, Kolze and other district officials were negligent by failing to meet their legal duty to "immediately report any allegation of neglect or abuse of a student about which they have reasonable cause to believe to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services."
"The defendants -- Michael Egan, Kim Kolze and other duly authorized agents and/or employees of the defendants -- never personally interviewed John Doe Jr. and took no measures to personally ascertain the gravity of the behavior of Ronald D. Culver," the court papers state.
Aretos declined to comment about the settlement or the case.
But District 95's attorney for the lawsuits, William Gleason, issued a statement on behalf of the school board, Egan and Kolze denying the allegation about the officials' lack of action. He said the district's mission includes providing a high-quality education to all students and having a safe and comfortable learning environment.
"Mr. Ronald Culver unfortunately betrayed this mission of the district," the statement says. "The conduct for which he pleaded guilty to in a court of law is reprehensible and in no way reflects the accepted standards or practices of the district. The first time that any employee of the district became aware of Mr. Culver's nefarious conduct, including Dr. Egan and Ms. Kolze, was on Oct. 28, 2010.
"The district administration immediately contacted the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services and the Lake Zurich Police Department that same day. Mr. Culver was not permitted to have contact with students after the allegations came to light and he resigned from his employment with the district on Oct. 29, 2010."
Claims similar to those in the settled lawsuit are made in the still-active complaint filed on behalf of the second teenage boy called John Doe, by attorney Martin Dolan.
That suit alleges Culver "had engaged in multiple instances of inappropriate and often unwanted sexual contact" with John Doe and other students at the high school in 2008. It also claims Culver allowed "multiple minor students" to drive his automobile, let some favored teenagers leave school early and repeatedly asked students about their sexual relationships.
"We obviously have an entirely different version of events than the school district claims," Dolan said. "All of the evidence and facts relating to what really occurred will come out in the jury trial. More important, we maintain that schools and other institutions have a responsibility to take action when allegations of sexual misconduct are first reported to ensure the protection of the victims."
John Doe reported to his parents that Culver sexually abused him at the high school Oct. 18, 2010, the complaint says. Documents show the parents notified the district about Culver after their son went to them.
Now 54, Culver, started teaching at Lake Zurich High in 2002 and was named Educator of the Year by the local chamber of commerce in 2007.