Dover schools settle with former student for $1.2M in sex abuse case

Matthew Puterbaugh

Dover Area School District agreed to a $1.2 million settlement with a woman who was sexually abused by her former music teacher while she was a student in the district.

The former Dover student sued the district in a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming that the district did not protect her. However, the district maintains innocence on its part, denying any wrongdoing or liability, according to the settlement agreement, released to The York Dispatch under  Right-to-Know law Monday.

The settlement was made in good faith from "highly disputed claims," the agreement states, for the purpose of avoiding the burden and expenses of trial.

According to the agreement, the district will pay the woman and her attorney, Farley Holt, $1.2 million, including attorneys fees and costs of the lawsuit and litigation, within 30 days of the July 17 agreement.

In accepting this sum, the settlement states, the woman who sued the district "releases and forever discharges" Dover and any former or present directors, officers, board members, administrators, agents, employees, insurers — or assigned successors representing them — of any administrative or judicial claims or demands before the agreement.

More:Dover Area settles with former student sexually abused by teacher

Under the agreement, she waives any right to claim damages or other legal and/or equitable relief.

And she gives up all legal rights to pursue claims against the district "for any matter arising out of her attendance at the Dover Area School District," also releasing the district from any claims or liabilities stemming from her attendance.

The settlement was reached  July 11 after three days of testimony in federal court in Harrisburg in the civil rights lawsuit. The school board approved the settlement  July 17.

Tight-lipped: When asked about the amount of the settlement after school board approval, board members were adamant that they could not disclose the information, citing terms in the agreement.

More:Dover school board won't release terms of settlement with teen sex victim

According to the agreement, they were prohibited from speaking about the terms of the settlement with anyone, unless exempted by public information laws.

"Should any inquiry be made regarding the litigation or settlement therof, the parties shall make no response other than words to the effect that 'I am unable to provide any information except that the litigation has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties,'" the agreement states.

The York Dispatch submitted an RTK request to the district in person following the meeting July 17.

The agreement also states that the plaintiff may not make any statements publicly or privately that defame or disparage the district or its board members, administrators, teachers or employees.

If any comments of this nature are made public "to the detriment of" the district, the woman agrees to pay the district 25 percent of the settlement amount in a lump sum, the agreement states.

Background: Holt filed the lawsuit against Dover Area School District on behalf of the former student in August 2015, following her abuser's guilty plea to two felonies —statutory sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse — that June.

Matthew Puterbaugh, the district's former music teacher and assistant high-school band director, began abusing the victim at age 12, according to her testimony. 

More:Ex-Dover teacher's teen sex victim recounts abuse

The woman, now 29, sued Puterbaugh in Harrisburg's federal court and also sued the district for failing to protect her from the abuse.

According to court documents, the victim's mother dismissed a school employee's concerns about the abuse, telling the employee her daughter is known to lie.

But the former student also spoke to teachers about Puterbaugh in 2002 and 2004, and nothing happened to him, she testified.

The district's attorney, Sharon O'Donnell, told jurors during the trial that teachers "listened compassionately" and tried to protect her, but the girl recanted her allegations.

However, Holt reminded the jury that no one from the district called police or child protective services.

Puterbaugh, 51, formerly of Dover Township, is already in federal prison serving a 15-year sentence for his possession of hundreds of images of child pornography.

After pleading guilty to the Dover-related charges in June, he was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison, to run concurrently with his federal prison time.