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Ex-North Central students file notices of legal claims against district alleging it failed to stop teacher misconduct

Corporation accused of failing to address red flags, complaints
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Posted at 6:00 AM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-24 18:34:54-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Two former North Central High School students are taking action against the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township, alleging the corporation failed to protect them from a teacher’s alleged misconduct over the span of several years.

It’s an update to a story WRTV Investigates first brought you Monday regarding former North Central High School teacher and theater director Nathan Shewell.

Shewell’s license is now revoked in Indiana amid allegations of misconduct with students at two different Indiana schools.

Former North Central High School student Natalie Schilling filed a tort claim notice with the school district on February 12 and another former student, identified as Jane Doe, filed a second tort claim notice on February 18.

A tort claim notice essentially puts the school corporation on notice of the former students’ plans to sue and demands school officials preserve all evidence in the case, including written statements and the school’s investigation file on the incidents.

Jane Doe’s claim filed this month alleges “mental, physical and sexual abuse” that occurred at North Central High School between 2016 to 2019.

Natalie Schilling’s claim alleges “repeated and pervasive incidents of mental and physical abuse that occurred at North Central High School between August 2016 through 2020.”

The documents say Shewell slammed into Natalie Schilling while she was a student and knocked her to the floor.

“For some reason, Nathan Shewell decided he was going to full-on body slam me with his entire body weight,” Schilling told WRTV. “He ran into me.”

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Natalie Schilling

The tort claim notice also alleges Shewell made comments implying she should commit suicide.

“He would heavily imply I should kill myself,” said Schilling, describing an alleged incident that was included in the Indiana Department of Education’s complaint to revoke Shewell’s teaching license. “He would say ‘hey jump off that platform, see if you hit your head.’"

Jane Doe’s tort claim notice alleges Shewell required that his drama students reenact their biggest fear or trauma.

“Shewell made Jane Doe go into a closet with him where Shewell pretended to be a rapist,” the tort claim notice alleges. “He held his hands to Jane Doe’s neck as if he was holding a knife and told her that if she didn’t remove her clothes he was going to kill her.”

The claim also said Shewell referred to Doe as a “rep slut,” tried to discuss her sex life with her, and told her she needed to be on birth control.

“While preparing for a performance from the musical "Rent," Shewell required Jane Doe and another girl to remain late after school to ‘practice’ becoming comfortable with sexuality by repeatedly touching each other’s breasts while he watched,” the tort claim notice alleges. “Shewell’s behavior was unwelcomed, repetitive, and pervasive.”

Attorney Jeff Gibson of Carmel law firm Wagner Reese and Texas-based attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel of the Simpson Tuegel law firm represent both Jane Doe and Natalie Schilling.

“It's abhorrent,” Gibson said. “When you are a school district, I would think the most important thing would be the safety of the students that go to that school."

WRTV Investigates did some checking and found not only did Shewell resign from Silver Creek in Sellersburg in 2012, he also resigned from LaPlata High School in Maryland in 2007 after working there for a year and a half.

TIMELINE

  • Hired at LaPlata High School in Maryland in January 2006 — Resigned June 30, 2007
  • Hired at Silver Creek High School in Indiana in August 2008 — Resigned September 28, 2012
  • Hired at North Central High School in Indiana in August 2013 — Fired May 26, 2020
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WRTV Investigates Kara Kenney (left) speaking with attorney Jeff Gibson (right).

The tort claim notices allege the school district failed to properly screen Shewell before hiring him.

"Had Washington Township exercised even the most basic due diligence, it would have easily discovered that Mr. Shewell had a sordid history of allegations of sexual abuse, physical violence, and verbal abuse with students,” tort claim notices allege. “Specifically, Mr. Shewell engaged in at least inappropriate sexual relationships with students while at Silver Creek which ultimately led to Mr. Shewell's resignation.”

Gibson said not only was MSD Washington Township negligent in its hiring process, but the district also failed to take seriously the complaints of North Central students and their parents.

"There were ample red flags both before and after he was hired, and it appears that they did nothing,” Gibson said. "In fact, Jane Doe's parents brought it to the principal's attention and his response was ‘as principal of North Central, I've learned you don't mess with the drama department.’"

Gibson and Tuegel said the claims also fall under Title IX, a federal law meant to protect students from mistreatment based on gender.

“We must demand that these schools be held responsible when they fail to protect their students like this,” said Michelle Simpson Tuegel.

Tuegel has been involved in high-profile cases, such as the Larry Nassar litigation against the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics.

MSD Washington Township will now have a chance to respond to the tort claims.

"We will continue our own investigation and decide when it would be appropriate to file a claim in court,” Gibson said.

After seven years with North Central, Nathan Shewell was fired on May 26, 2020.

The district told WRTV it found Shewell, “made false statements in his job application in an effort to conceal his resignation from a previous employer due to allegations of inappropriate interactions with students at that school corporation.”

WRTV reached out to MSD Washington Township regarding the tort claim notices filed by former North Central High School students.

Tuesday, the district released a statement.

“We regret that these egregious claims were not brought to our attention sooner, however the suggestion that the District, and North Central Principal Bryant Branigan in particular, knew these details during Shewell’s employment is false,” read a statement from the school corporation. “The District did receive a small number of complaints regarding instances where Shewell’s harsh tone or unsympathetic style emotionally impacted students, and the District addressed these concerns swiftly.”

The statement went on to say, “new reports regarding Shewell’s sexual comments directed at female students were never relayed to the District.”

Tuesday, MSD Washington Township also sent letters from Superintendent Dr. Nikki Woodson to parents outlining similar statements.

“Recent accounts made by former District students about former employee Nathan Shewell in the media are deeply troubling,” read the letter to parents. “Protecting students from all forms of harassment is a top priority for Washington Township Schools. The District strongly enforces its long-standing Anti-Harassment policy and urges all students, administrators, teachers, staff, and all other school personnel to share responsibility for avoiding, discouraging, and reporting any form of unlawful harassment.”

The letter said the District also prohibits any retaliation against individuals who report a complaint alleging harassment.

“Despite these protections, at no time during Shewell’s employment with the Washington Township Schools were these accounts brought to the District’s attention,” read the letter.

The district closed the letter by encouraging parents and students to report harassment claims via text or phone 317-672-0613, email 1217@ALERT1.US, or https://msdwt-in.safeschoolsalert.com/.

The district also pointed out it fired Shewell and notified the Indiana Department of Education.

The Indiana Department of Education revoked his teaching license on January 6 after filing a complaint outlining allegations of misconduct at both North Central and Silver Creek.

“Finally, someone listened,” Natalie Schilling said.

WRTV checked with the Indiana Department of Education and a spokesperson said Shewell's license revocation is also now in a national database (National Association of State Directors of Teachers Education or NASDTEC clearinghouse) that would prevent him from teaching in another state.

Also, Shewell will not be able to teach in an Indiana public school for the next three years and would have to go before an administrative judge before he could get reinstated, according to IDOE.

Former students like Natalie Schilling hope by speaking out and taking action, it will prompt change and better protect all Indiana children.

"I'm hoping with this story and everything he won't be able to weasel his way back into some sort of teaching position,” Schilling said.

WRTV Investigates reached out to Shewell’s attorney, Adam Lenkowsky, for a response to the tort claim notices.

“He does not want to give a statement,” Lenkowsky said in an email to WRTV.

You can watch our full investigation here into why students say the system failed them.

In our previous reporting on Nathan Shewell and the IDOE complaint, MSD Washington Township provided the following statement:

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP SCHOOLS’ STATEMENT AS OF 2/23/2021

“We regret that these egregious claims were not brought to our attention sooner, however the suggestion that the District, and North Central Principal Bryant Branigan in particular, knew these details during Shewell’s employment is false. The District did receive a small number of complaints regarding instances where Shewell’s harsh tone or unsympathetic style emotionally impacted students, and the District addressed these concerns swiftly. For example, your media story recounted how Shewell did not show the appropriate empathetic response to a student’s thumb injury. But the new reports regarding Shewell’s sexual comments directed at female students were never relayed to the District.

When the District received additional concerns from students (mostly non-Washington Township students) after Shewell’s termination, the District, through its outside counsel, thoroughly investigated these claims and reviewed District policies and practices. This included contacting the two tort claimants, one of which did not respond to an invitation to participate in the investigation. These reports did bring disturbing news to light regarding his behavior at the prior school employer, but the reports identified no new evidence of inappropriate sexual conduct regarding Washington Township Schools students.”

The following statements were obtained in our previous reporting of Nathan Shewell and his license revocation:

INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION STATEMENT

The Indiana Department of Education prioritizes student safety, one of the most critical responsibilities we face. We routinely collaborate with school administrators to identify misconduct in Indiana schools, and our educator licensure team takes swift action to keep these offenders away from students. As a new administration learning about this situation, we’ll be exploring how we may improve processes in the future to best protect our students and maintain the integrity of the education profession.

Indiana is home to some of the nation’s best educators. The actions of the individual described in this report are repugnant and should in no way reflect upon the more than 78,000 educators who work with integrity serving Hoosier students and families every day.

SILVER CREEK’S RESPONSE

When Mr. Shewell was employed at Silver Creek High School, the school was a part of the West Clark Community School Corporation. Silver Creek High School is now under new leadership and a new school corporation, the Silver Creek School Corporation. Silver Creek School Corporation takes any allegations of teacher misconduct seriously, and we have no information to provide as to how a different organization and administration handled the matter.

Thank you,

Todd Voigt

Director of Human Resources/Operations for the Silver Creek School Corporation in Sellersburg

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Nathan Shewell

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