Evanston high school settles suit with former students who allege sexual abuse

EVANSTON — Evanston Township High School has reached a settlement with former students who sued the district.

The students previously alleged school officials were negligent for not detecting a pattern of alleged abuse by a former theater teacher, Bruce Siewerth.

Half a dozen former students told WGN Investigates they either witnessed or were victims of inappropriate touching in the 1970s and 1980s.

Following our report, Evanston police investigated. But Cook County prosecutors said that while there was evidence abuse took place, too much time had passed to bring charges.

Evanston school officials now say they’ve reached what they call a “unique” settlement agreement. No money will go to former students, but the district is agreeing to spend $100,000 over the next decade to address sexual assault awareness, reporting and prevention.

Siewerth, who is now retired denied wrongdoing. There is still a pending lawsuit against him.

The following message was shared with Evanston Township High School students, families and staff on Friday:

Dear ETHS community,

The following statement pertains to a settlement decision approved by the Evanston Township High School District 202 at a special board meeting on January 18, 2019.

Evanston Township High School District 202 is pleased to report that it has reached a settlement with the plaintiffs in the Bruce Siewerth matter. The plaintiffs have agreed to dismiss their complaints against the school district, but will continue their case against Mr. Siewerth.

Reports surfaced in the fall of 2017 that Mr. Siewerth, who retired from the school district in 1998, engaged in inappropriate conduct with students while employed at the school district. Lawsuits were then filed by three former students who graduated in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s against Mr. Siewerth in his individual capacity and against the school district. The school district also became aware of a fourth individual that engaged the same plaintiff’s counsel but had not yet filed suit. While the school district maintains that it did not have knowledge of any of the allegations made against Mr. Siewerth, since the filing of the lawsuits the school district has sought to work with plaintiffs, through their attorneys, to resolve these matters and avoid costly and drawn out litigation.

Through the parties’ dialogue, the plaintiffs and the school district have reached a unique settlement that meets both the plaintiffs’ and the school district’s goal to create a positive solution out of intolerable circumstances. Specifically, instead of paying any settlement amounts to the plaintiffs, the school district will commit to spending a total of $100,000 over the course of the next ten years to enhance already existing programs sponsored by the school district for the benefit of evanston high school students that address sexual assault awareness, reporting, and prevention.

The school district reemphasizes its empathy for any individuals that may have been victimized and is grateful a resolution could be reached that benefits ETHS students and the greater Evanston school community.

Sincerely,
Eric Witherspoon, Ph.D.
Superintendent

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