Oklahoma school district settles lawsuit over student sex with teacher
HOLLIS — The school district in this small western Oklahoma town has settled a lawsuit over a middle school English teacher having sex with an eighth-grade student in the classroom.
The former teacher, Jennifer Caswell, 31, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for sex crimes in 2015, following a television appearance on the "Dr. Phil" talk show to discuss her illicit relationship with the boy.
Hollis Public Schools agreed to pay $125,000 to settle claims that the school participated in covering up Caswell's sexual abuse, said Charles Watts, an attorney for the victim's family.
The Oklahoman is not identifying the student or his family, because he is the victim of a sex crime.
The student's father sued Caswell, Hollis schools and several school district officials in 2015. The father claimed in a federal lawsuit that his son's grades and extracurricular activities suffered as a result of the abuse. The student also experienced emotional distress and humiliation when his peers found out, the lawsuit stated.
"The truth is that this has a terrible effect on a child," Watts said. "You can expect in his future life that he will have a hard time with relationships."
In a sworn deposition, the father testified that high school Principal Marty Webb accused his son of lying and told him his son "needed to keep his mouth closed" when rumors began to spread about Caswell's relationship with the boy.
The father testified that when he refused to let Webb paddle his son as punishment for allegedly spreading rumors, the boy was instead placed on in-school suspension for a week.
The father claimed school officials allowed Caswell to resign with the understanding she would be able to keep her teaching credentials.
School attorney Andy Fugitt said school officials reported the matter to police and the local district attorney's office around the same time Caswell resigned. It is the Oklahoma State Department of Education — not local school districts — that has the authority to revoke teaching credentials, he said.
Hollis Public Schools has always denied claims that the boy was threatened with paddling or other punishment.
"The school district responded to the information it had — which was very limited — in an appropriate way," Fugitt said, noting that Caswell and the student both initially denied the relationship.
Fugitt declined to confirm the amount of the settlement.
Caswell continued her improper relationship with the teen unbeknownst to the father after she left her teaching job, the lawsuit claimed.
In June 2014, police arrested Caswell in Mississippi after finding her in a hotel room with the boy, who was spending summer vacation with his mother.
Caswell made national news in 2015 when she was sentenced to prison for child rape charges stemming from her relationship with the student, who was then 15 years old.
A lawsuit against Caswell for intentional infliction of emotional distress is still pending and is expected to go to trial before a federal judge in Oklahoma City sometime this year.
Caswell has elected not to defend herself against the lawsuit.
"I suspect she will never be a wealthy woman to pay our clients," said Watts. "My clients felt like she really did them wrong."
Caswell is serving her sentence at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud.
The former teacher's attorney, David Cummins, said it was Caswell's decision not to offer any defense against the lawsuit.
Caswell is doing well in prison, although disheartened that she must serve a mandatory eight and a half years of her 10-year sentence, Cummins said.
"She's ready to be out," Cummins said. "Sometimes those harsh laws get applied somewhat unjustly."
Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›