Settlement reached over former teacher's conduct

A civil case over allegations a former Medford School District teacher inappropriately touched three female Howard Elementary School students has been settled outside of court for an undisclosed dollar amount, officials said.

Christopher Marc Gilman was fired in March 2010 for "improper behavior" with female fourth- and fifth-graders. His dismissal came after Gilman was previously reprimanded for a similar issue, according to court documents and the state agency that licenses teachers.

"The case was settled with the help of a mediator," said Medford attorney Thomas N. Petersen, who represented the three students. He declined to provide the settlement figure.

Court records show each plaintiff was seeking an amount not to exceed $1 million.

Gilman could not be reached for comment Friday.

Medford Superintendent Phil Long on Friday afternoon declined to give the settlement amount, stating he could not remember the exact figure. He referred inquiries to the district's attorney, Thad Pauck, whose law offices were closed for the holidays.

Petersen filed the case in October 2010 in U.S. District Court against the school district, Gilman, Long and Howard Elementary School Principal Sallie Johnson.

"They vouched for (Gilman's) good character, trustworthiness as a teacher," Petersen said, adding Johnson sent home a letter to Howard parents touting Gilman as a "committed teacher" who had attended the elementary school himself "as a tot."

Petersen said the school district failed to protect vulnerable students from a man they knew had "on numerous occasions in 2003 inappropriately touched other fourth-grade female students."

"They continued to assign female students and suppressed Gilman's history of sexual conduct with other female students from the girls and their parents," Petersen said, adding Gilman's behavior mimicked that of the earlier incident.

On at least one occasion, Gilman licked one female student's face. And he placed photos on Facebook without permission from the students or their parents, Petersen said.

"Each student suffered extreme emotional and physical distress and injury, fright, horror, grief, shame, humiliation, embarrassment, anger, chagrin, disappointment and worry," he said.

The state's Teacher Standard and Practices Commission reprimanded Gilman in 2004 and placed him on probation for two years for "failing to maintain an appropriate professional student-teacher relationship" with girls in his fourth-grade class, state records show.

The previous case was reported to the state licensing commission in February 2004 by Dick Gregory, who was then the superintendent of Medford schools.

In a document Gilman signed in July 2004, he admitted that in December 2003, he "engaged in inappropriate physical conduct," which included letting students sit in his lap during class, tickling girls and touching them on the legs, as well as patting them on the buttocks during athletic activities and free-play time.

The document concluded that "this misconduct constitutes gross neglect of duty," and that Gilman should be publicly reprimanded.

Under the conditions of his two-year probation, Gilman was required to seek evaluation by a psychotherapist, therapist or other commission-approved medical professional who would submit a written report to the commission "attesting that Mr. Gilman is fit to work with children and that there is a high probability Mr. Gilman won't repeat inappropriate physical contact with students."

He also was to comply with a treatment plan and submit updates on his progress to the commission's executive director every six months during his probationary period. The commission approved the agreement in January 2005, court records show.

The recent allegations, which came to light Feb. 3, 2010, caused Gilman to be placed on paid leave as soon as a student reported a problem with him to Johnson, the Howard principal. A letter regarding the situation was mailed to parents Feb. 12.

School officials contacted the Department of Human Services and law enforcement as part of their process. Medford police investigated, the case went before the grand jury and Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston declined to prosecute the case.

Gilman's actions "clearly constitute inappropriate touching, but did not rise to the level necessary to sustain a conviction in a criminal court," Huddleston said in a statement released in February 2010.

Huddleston's news release recounted that six of the 10 students interviewed by police reported getting what they called Indian burns from Gilman. Two told police that it hurt or bothered them, while others said it didn't hurt, was no big deal, or was funny. Because of the varying responses, Huddleston said he couldn't conclude that the teacher intended to harass or annoy students, and that such intent would be necessary to prove a charge of physical harassment.

Huddleston said he lacked evidence that the touching was sexual in nature or done to physically harass the students.

Petersen, a former prosecutor, said he was disappointed by Huddleston's failure to prosecute Gilman.

"I find it interesting the D.A. did not prosecute the first time or the second time," Petersen said. "What do you do if the prosecutor won't prosecute? We filed the lawsuit to make sure the school district gets the message that this will not be tolerated."

Long said Friday that while neither of Gilman's incidents rose to the level of criminal prosecution, the district had handled the case appropriately.

"In all of our actions, we focus on keeping the children safe," Long said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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