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Settlement reached in HPA sex abuse lawsuit

KAILUA-KONA — A federal civil lawsuit against Hawaii Preparatory Academy in Waimea in a case involving a former teacher accused of sexually abusing a student two years ago was officially dismissed last month.

A settlement between the school and plaintiffs, identified as John Roe I, Jane Roe I and John Roe II, was reached during the summer and the case was dismissed Sept. 9 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

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“Although there were a number of factual disputes and allegations denied by HPA, this matter was resolved out of court this summer,” state HPA’s Head of School Robert McKendry in a letter issued Monday to students and parents. “The details of this lawsuit and its resolution are confidential and prohibit us from addressing specifics of this case.”

On Monday, the plaintiffs’ counsel, Bruce Voss, said little about the settlement.

“The case was amicably resolved,” he said, declining further comment.

The lawsuit was filed May 31, 2017, in federal court, a little more than a year after the school announced in news articles that its then-director of alumni and student programs, Arati Clarry, was no longer employed there after having an inappropriate relationship with a student.

Clarry was never criminally charged because the student was 17 years old at the time and technically the age of consent, according to state law.

According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs claimed HPA failed to prevent or investigate the relationship between the student and former employee. The complaint doesn’t identify the student, parents or the HPA employee by name, only referring to the student as “John Roe” and the employee as the initials “A.C.”

In his letter to students and parents Monday, McKendry said an inappropriate relationship was discovered between one of the employees and an Upper School student two years ago.

“HPA immediately terminated the employee, banned the employee from our campuses, and conducted a thorough investigation by an outside investigator to learn how this had occurred and to gather any information that could prevent abuse and harm in the future,” McKendry stated in the letter.

The lawsuit didn’t specifically include the former employee as a defendant in the case, instead directing attention toward Hawaii Preparatory Academy, which the plaintiffs accused of failing to prevent or investigate the alleged abuse as well as covering it up.

The complaint alleges that the employee groomed and sexually abused the former student, who was a junior at the school during the time spanned by the complaint.

Between February and March 2016, the complaint alleges more than a dozen instances of sexual abuse took place at the employee’s apartment in the school’s residence hall.

While the plaintiffs say the school did nothing to prevent or investigate those incidents, HPA officials iterate its strong child protection policies in place. McKendry said every employee undergoes standard hiring protocols, including background reference checks and training, yet, there were lessons learned.

“As a result of this event, the school took a comprehensive and in-depth look at its policies, practices and procedures and implemented many changes to improve student safety,” he said. “Major actions we took included revising protocols for residence halls and updating policies and reporting procedures for students, faculty and staff.”

According to McKendry’s letter, administrators also provided more extensive annual training and education for employees and students about policies, appropriate boundaries between adults and students and how to report concerns about student sexual abuse. While the focus initially was on the Upper School, all employees received more rigorous training, and policy and procedure updates have now extended to all divisions.

“I hope resolving this matter will bring some closure for the student and the student’s family,” McKendry stated. “We deeply regret that an inappropriate relationship occurred between an employee and one of our students and our school will do all we can to make sure this breach of trust never happens again.”

McKendry added that the safety of students is — and always will be — the top priority at HPA.

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“We will take whatever action is necessary to continue to protect our students because a healthy, caring and inspiring student-teacher/adult relationship is the core of our learning community,” he said. “I am confident the actions we’ve taken create a safer environment for our students and employees.”

Email Tiffany DeMasters at tdemasters@westhawaiitoday.com.

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