Evanston Township school district Superintendent Eric Witherspoon recently announced that officials have reached a settlement agreement with four former students who claimed they were sexually abused years ago by an ex-drama teacher, Bruce Siewerth, who retired from the high school in the 1990s.
The district is set to pay $100,000 over the course of the next ten years. The settlement comes more than a year after a group of former students filed lawsuits against Evanston Township Hight School (ETHS), the Evanston Board of Education, and the ex-instructor. Siewerth was a well-known drama teacher at the high school but was accused by many former students of inappropriate conduct and sexual abuse following a #MeToo post by ETHS graduate Jeff Lieber in October 2017.
After the district announced the settlement, Lieber published a follow-up social media post applauding the others for their courage in choosing to come forward, stating, “It’s not the end of the road but a good first step in bringing what happened into the light.”
“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,” Witherspoon said.
Three students filed their lawsuit anonymously as John Does, claiming ETHS and school board officials either knew or should have known about the alleged abuse. Yet, despite this knowledge, they did nothing to stop them. The school district says it has also become aware of a fourth student who had made similar allegations but is not yet part of the filing. The students said Siewerth’s abuse was an “open secret.”
“On at least one occasion, Bruce Siewerth cornered John Doe 1 in the theater shop, reached down his pants and molested John Doe 1’s genitals,” the complaint states. “During the course of the molestation, (Siewerth) said to John Doe 1 ‘I bet you’ve got a big one, let’s see.’”
Mike Metz, the Evanston attorney representing the students, said he was also pleased with the settlement. “The current administration had nothing to do with the allegations,” Metz said, and confirmed that neither his clients nor his firm would receive any of the money, which will instead be disbursed at a rate of $10,000 a year to the school over the coming decade.
The funds will go toward improving “already existing programs sponsored by the school district for the benefit of Evanston High School students that address sexual assault awareness, reporting, and prevention.” Metz added, “They’re going to make sure this never happens again.”
Witherspon stated, “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.”
In 2018, Evanston police said they investigated at least 35 separate incidents involving Siewerth but criminal charges have never been filed against him personally, because of the statute of limitations.