Student Well-Being

Jury Awards $105 Million In Teacher-Student Abuse Case

By Lisa Fine — November 08, 2000 4 min read

A South Carolina jury has found a Charleston private school and two former administrators responsible in a teacher’s sexual abuse of male students and awarded a victim’s father $105 million in damages.

The award, though unlikely to be collected in full, may be the largest for a single victim of sexual misconduct against students by school employees, legal experts say.

Late last month, the state court jury found that principal James Bishop Alexander and headmaster Berkeley Grimball, both now deceased, were negligent for not stopping the abuse by a teacher at the Porter-Gaud School in the 1970s and early 1980s. In April of last year, a judge sentenced teacher Edward Fischer to 20 years in prison in connection with 13 sexual-abuse charges.

Mr. Fischer later admitted to having victimized at least 39 boys, including more than 20 from Porter-Gaud, during his 40-year teaching career in Charleston-area public and private schools.

The case against the college- preparatory school, as well as the administrators as individuals, was filed in 1998 by Harold Glover, the father of one of those former students. The jury awarded him $90 million in punitive damages, plus $15 million in actual damages.

“The verdict has become a cautionary tale to South Carolina schools about how not to handle sex-abuse complaints,” said Mr. Glover’s lawyer, Gregg Meyers, who is also a member of the Charleston County board of education. “On the school board, I hear how sensitive school employees have become to preventing incidents. I think we all have Porter-Gaud in the back of our minds.”

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed involving former students of Mr. Fischer’s—not all of them at Porter-Gaud—but this was the first to go to trial. Several others have been settled for undisclosed amounts, while nine others are pending.

National education groups say the Porter-Gaud case represents how conscious school administrators must be about their own responsibility in letting sexual abuse of students by employees go unchecked. In communities across the country, districts are increasingly being called to account in court for their handling of incidents of sexual abuse of students by school employees. (“Cost Is High When Schools Ignore Abuse,” Dec. 9, 1998.)

“There is a growing body of case law on what school districts are responsible for in preventing abuse,” said Judy Seltz, a spokeswoman for the American Association of School Administrators, based in Alexandria, Va. “I think there is a strong sense of that.”

Ms. Seltz and other experts said they suspected the size of the jury award in the Glover suit was unprecedented in such a case.

“I have not heard of a verdict that big before,” said Edwin Darden, a senior staff lawyer for the National School Boards Association.

Surprised by Amount

Porter-Gaud’s current headmaster, Stephen R. Blanchard, said he was surprised by the verdict’s magnitude.

On Oct. 26, he sent a letter home to parents saying that school officials had been cautioned by their lawyers against expressing their feelings about the case.

“Like you, we have found the recent lawsuits extraordinarily painful,” the letter said. “We remain deeply grieved by the circumstances of these lawsuits. And we profoundly regret them.”

Mr. Fischer had worked at Porter- Gaud as a physical science teacher and athletics adviser from 1972 to 1982. After that, he worked for other private schools as well as a public high school in Charleston.

When Mr. Fischer was quietly asked to resign at Porter-Gaud after a sex complaint, Mr. Alexander helped him get another job at a private school. Similarly, Mr. Grimball wrote Mr. Fischer a letter expressing appreciation for his work at Porter-Gaud and offering to help him in the future, according to witness testimony.

“What Porter-Gaud did was worse than Fischer,” said Guerry Glover, 35, whose father filed the lawsuit. “He was sick. They knew better.”

In an interview, Mr. Blanchard said that for the past year, Porter-Gaud, a coed school serving students in grades 1-12, has fingerprinted all new employees; provided sexual-harassment training for teachers and begun to develop such training for students; and required more thorough teacher reviews, including annual reviews, peer reviews, and student evaluations.

The result, he said, should make Porter-Gaud a leader in efforts to deter sexual abuse.

Mr. Alexander killed himself just days before he was to give a sworn deposition in another lawsuit dealing with similar complaints in 1998. Mr. Grimball died last year after saying in a sworn statement that he had not been obligated to call police after the sex-abuse complaint that resulted in Mr. Fischer’s departure from the school.

Guerry Glover said he doesn’t expect to get the full amount of money awarded by the jury on Oct. 25 and 26, because of limits on insurance coverage. Because Porter-Gaud is a nonprofit institution, the school’s liability is limited to $250,000 under state law—a cap that is similar to the one applying to public schools, according to Mr. Meyers. The school’s insurance on the two estates is capped at $2 million.

A version of this article appeared in the November 08, 2000 edition of Education Week as Jury Awards $105 Million In Teacher-Student Abuse Case


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being Opinion Where Does Social-Emotional Learning Go Next?
Teachers, students, and parents all want more social-emotional and service learning in schools. The pandemic has only heightened that need.
John M. Bridgeland & Francie Richards
4 min read
Friendly group of people stand and support each other.
IULIIA/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being What the Research Says Masks, Tracking, Desk Shields: How Much Do School Measures Reduce Families' COVID-19 Risk?
A new study pinpoints the most effective mitigation measures and suggests that the more of them schools use, the better.
5 min read
Jennifer Becker, right, Science Teacher at the Sinaloa Middle School, talks to one of her students in Novato, Calif. on March 2, 2021.
Jennifer Becker, right, a teacher at Sinaloa Middle School, wears a mask to stem the spread of coronavirus as she talks with a student earlier this year in Novato, Calif.
Haven Daily/AP
Student Well-Being Opinion The One Thing Teachers Do That Hurts Student Motivation
When adults take over on a challenging task, kids are more likely to quit sooner on the next one. Here’s what to do instead.
Julia Leonard
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Whitepaper
The Complete Guide to SEL
This guide illustrates why SEL is more important now and what you should look for when implementing a social-emotional curriculum.
Content provided by Navigate360