The Montgomery County Board of Education agreed Tuesday to settle a civil lawsuit that stemmed from a school teacher’s sexual abuse of children.
In a hearing in Montgomery County Circuit Court, attorneys for the school board agreed that the district would pay $500,000 in a settlement agreement, split evenly among two children who filed separate suits. The lawsuits say the school system failed to remove a Cloverly Elementary School teacher from the classroom, despite learning of his inappropriate behavior several years prior.
The two students will be allowed to transfer schools as part of the settlement agreement.
John Vigna, a former third-grade teacher at the Silver Spring school, was convicted in June 2017 of sexually abusing four female students over the course of 15 years. He was sentenced to 48 years in prison.
The two civil lawsuits were filed in civil court by family members on behalf of juveniles called “Jane Doe” and “Mary Doe” in court documents. The lawsuits alleged that in 2014 Vigna would place the children on his lap and touch them inappropriately in the presence of other students. The plaintiffs said MCPS officials could have prevented the abuse.
On June 2, 2008, then-Principal Melissa Brunson sent Vigna a letter of reprimand, detailing two incidents in which Vigna was observed holding students in his lap, according to the recent lawsuit. Brunson told Vigna in the letter that if similar behavior continued, it would be grounds for discipline “up to and including dismissal.”
In February 2013, Vigna was removed from his teaching position for three weeks while the school system investigated further alleged incidents of inappropriate behavior, according to court documents. School officials again issued a letter of reprimand and advised Vigna to seek assistance for his “inability to recognize appropriate behavior with students,” according to court documents.
He was arrested in 2016 after a child reported that Vigna abused her two years earlier. The girl reported Vigna after learning about “inappropriate touching” in a fifth-grade class, according to court documents.
Attorneys for Jane and Mary Doe said the school district’s inaction in terminating Vigna’s employment was negligent and it endangered students.
MCPS lawyers had previously argued that nobody with authority to fire Vigna knew he was sexually abusing students.
Vigna, now an inmate at a correctional facility in Cumberland, Maryland, was not present for Tuesday’s proceedings.
Adult family members of the children said each incurred more than $30,000 in medical and therapy expenses in the past 1 1/2 years.
In a trial in 2017, when five former students testified, Vigna denied his behavior was intended to cause harm. Rather, he said that he needed to pick the children up to “be an effective or better teacher” and to “relate or respond to students’ needs or desires for physical contact with him,” according to court documents.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org