FORMER NORTH CENTRAL TEACHER WHOSE LICENSE WAS REVOKED OVER MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS HAD PRIOR COMPLAINTS, so how was he hired? — INDIANAPOLIS — The state has revoked the teaching license of a former North Central High School teacher following allegations of misbehavior and misconduct involving students.
Nathan Shewell agreed to surrender his Indiana teaching license on Jan. 6 following a formal complaint by the Indiana Department of Education.
But WRTV Investigates has uncovered this is not the first time Shewell has faced allegations of misconduct at an Indiana school district.
WRTV Investigates’ Kara Kenney spoke with a dozen of Shewell’s former students.
She’s digging into how the system failed to protect children, and how Nathan Shewell got hired in the first place.
ALLEGATIONS AT SILVER CREEK HIGH SCHOOL
Ashley Nation is a married mother of two. It’s taken Ashley 12 years to come to terms with what she says happened while she was a student at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg, Indiana.
Nation said she first met Nathan Shewell in 2008 when he was hired at Silver Creek as the theatre director.
"I had things going on in my home life that were at times a little rough for me,” she said.
Nation said Nathan Shewell earned her trust and took an interest in her personal life and relationships. Eventually, things turned physical, she said.
"It started simple and he would put his hand on my shoulder or the small of my back, and then he would come up and say, ‘Hey your ass looks really great in those pants today,’” Nation said. “It just slowly became more. He would come up and grab my butt or make comments."
Nation said she and Shewell had a sexual relationship once she turned 18 years old.
"After high school we graduated and our relationship escalated a little more and after a few times being with him I realized that this wasn't right,” Nation said.
At the time, she didn’t tell anyone.
"He said people wouldn't understand how I care for you," she said. “He would express to me, ‘I’m the only one who cares about you, your family doesn’t care about you.’”
Olivia Castetter also attended Silver Creek High School in 2009 - 2012, and said Shewell groomed students, asked them about their sex lives and made inappropriate comments.
"He would comment on how good the girls looked depending on what they were wearing,” Castetter said. “There were certain girls he would comment on. There were certain girls he would pit against each other."
Castetter described Shewell as “opportunistic,” and said he focused his attention on students in rough situations.
"After I graduated and turned 18, he would ask for details on my sexual relationships at that point,” she said.
Shewell’s behavior caught the attention of his fellow employees at Silver Creek High School as well.
Cathy Ryan served as Silver Creek’s assistant drama director alongside Nathan Shewell.
"It was really sad the verbal and mental abuse that was going on that was allowed,” Ryan said. “I probably reported Nathan over 10 times to administrators."
Ryan quit as assistant drama director in 2011.
Ryan’s March 14, 2011 resignation letter to the principal at the time outlined concerns about Nathan Shewell, including allegations that students had access to pornographic images on his personal laptop.
“Students had access to those pictures because Nathan gave them directions to use the laptop,” her resignation letter read. “Is exposing under-age students to pornography allowed?”
Despite Ryan’s concerns, records show Nathan Shewell stayed employed with Silver Creek High School for another year and a half.
Shewell resigned from Silver Creek on September 28, 2012, according to the district.
The reasons for his resignation are not public record.
Both Cathy Ryan and Ashley Nation said they assumed when Shewell resigned from Silver Creek High School in 2012 that he wouldn’t get another teaching job in Indiana.
“I was under the impression that he would not teach again,” Nation said.
Nation told only her husband about her interactions with Shewell, until 2020.
"I found out that he was teaching at a school in Indianapolis, and that is when I said something about what happened to me, and I personally called the school,” she said.
ALLEGATIONS AT NORTH CENTRAL SCHOOL AND STATE COMPLAINT
Nation’s phone call to North Central High School prompted Washington Township Schools to investigate, as well as the Indiana Department of Education.
On May 26, 2020, Washington Township Schools fired Shewell.
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 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.
- 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 Sept. 28, 2012
- Hired at North Central High School in Indiana in August 2013— Fired May 26, 2020
“I think (our system) is broken,” Nation said. “I think it’s broken and this is an opportunity for us as victims to be heard and so schools can understand what they need to do to fix this problem.”
Ashley Nation is “Victim 1” in the Indiana Department of Education’s complaint against Shewell, which was filed on November 23.
It outlines complaints against Shewell from former students at both Silver Creek and North Central, including allegations Shewell talked with students about sex and drugs.
IDOE’s complaint also alleges Shewell used acting exercises to gather personal information about students and would then use that information to initiate conversations about sex.
WRTV Investigates also tracked down “Victim 3” in that complaint—Natalie Schilling, who graduated from North Central High School last year and did theatre under Shewell’s direction.
"Verbally I got targeted a lot,” Schilling said. “He would make varying comments about how I was ugly, untalented.”
Schilling said Shewell also made comments implying she should commit suicide.
“He would heavily imply I should kill myself,” Schilling said. “He would say, ‘Hey jump off that platform, see if you hit your head.’"
Former North Central students said they reported Shewell’s behavior.
Jeremy Rogers said he and his parents emailed complaints to the school in 2013, shortly after Shewell was hired.
Rogers said Shewell mocked him after he dislocated his thumb during a rehearsal.
"I alerted the faculty about Nathan Shewell's conduct during his first semester of teaching at the school where he was employed and the department and administration seemed completely uninterested,” said Rogers.
Former students say Shewell’s behavior continued at North Central for seven years.
“He grabbed me by the collar, and said if I ever talked to him like that I will take you out of the show so fast you won’t know what hit you,” said Matthew Conwell, who graduated from North Central in 2015. “It still took the township an incredible amount of time to fire him. There should have been swift consequences when these people were starting to come forward.”
In all, WRTV Investigates spoke with or received written statements from a dozen of Nathan Shewell’s former students at both schools alleging they were victims or witnesses of Shewell’s behavior that Washington Township Schools described in a letter to the state as “serious misbehavior and misconduct.”
Former North Central students Allie Wineland and Jamie Wann said Shewell made inappropriate remarks about female students’ bodies.
“In front of the entire cast, he made comments about her boobs being too big for the costume,” Wineland said.
"He said that her breasts looked too big in the costume, but he said it in a way that he liked the way they looked, and I thought that was incredibly inappropriate,” said Wann.
More than 1,500 people have signed a petition urging North Central school administrators to take student concerns seriously.
They say North Central High School never should have hired Nathan Shewell in the first place.
"This is the population we need to protect the most and it feels like we are letting them down over and over again,” said Windland.
Several former North Central students are represented by Carmel attorney Jeff Gibson of law firm Wagner Reese and Texas-based attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel of the Simpson Tuegel law firm.
“North Central High School could have prevented this and in these cases it is important that we not just hold the individual accountable, but also the institution that allowed this type of behavior to go on unchecked,” said Gibson.
Gibson has represented childhood victims of sexual violence including Olympic level athletes and Tuegel has been involved in high-profile cases, such as the Larry Nassar litigation against the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics.
“We must demand that these schools be held responsible when they fail to protect their students like this,” said Tuegel.
HIRING PROCEDURES UNDER SCRUTINY
So, how did this happen?
WRTV asked Mike McCarty with Safe Hiring Solutions, a Danville company that provides background screening services and training to more than 1,000 school corporations across the country.
WRTV Investigates: Would you consider it a red flag if someone resigned from two different school districts?
McCarty: I would certainly want to know more.
McCarty said in 2013, many schools were hesitant to tell other schools why an employee left.
"The reluctance was almost uniformly the standard, they didn't want to talk or give any information,” McCarty said.
Shewell would have passed a criminal history check because he has no criminal history.
"80% of sex offenders have no criminal history,” said McCarty.
Indiana implemented a new law in 2017 that closes some of the gaps and requires schools to contact previous school districts and references and removes the barriers of confidentiality agreements.
"It would make it much more difficult today for him to be hired than in 2013,” said McCarty. "By law, if it's another school, they are required to tell you if they left under suspicion or asked to resign or if there was any issue related to a student."
Highlights of the 2017 law:
New School Employees:
- Requires reference checks including checking with prior school districts if employed with a school in the past
- Includes public and nonpublic schools
- Adds human trafficking to list of crimes to exclude employment with school
Existing School Employees:
- Requires expanded criminal history check every 5 years.
- Requires schools to check 20% of school employees each year over next 5 years
- Requires state courts to work with the Indiana Department of Education to create a program for sending conviction information to IDOE so that they can review against licensed employees
Washington Township Schools said in 2013, Shewell made false statements on his job application about his resignation from a previous school corporation.
McCarty says hiring gaps still remain in Indiana, especially when an applicant leaves a previous employer off of their application or resume.
Safe Hiring Solutions is working on tools that would allow them to search tax records to find all employers whether they’re listed on a job application or not.
"It's a never-ending process,” said Mike McCarty.
“IT’S NOT ENOUGH”: FORMER STUDENTS SAY REGARDING LICENSE REVOCATION
Shewell reached an agreement with the Indiana Department of Education on Jan. 6 to relinquish his teaching license.
The Indiana Department of Education declined an interview for this story, but told us Nathan Shewell’s license revocation is 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.
"It's not enough,” Nation said. “I want to know for a fact that he won't set foot in a classroom ever again"
WRTV Investigates contacted Nathan Shewell via email, and we got a response from his attorney Adam Lenkowsky.
“My client Nathan Shewell forwarded me an email you had sent him requesting an interview,” said Lenkowsky in an email to WRTV. “Mr. Shewell will not at this point be giving an interview. Please direct future correspondence regarding this matter to me.”
In his interview with North Central, Shewell said he resigned from Silver Creek High School because he was “working too many hours.”
When asked about grooming Ashley Nation when she was 16 years old and having sex with her once she turned 18, records show Nathan Shewell laughed and said “clearly something’s wrong” with her and he was happy she was getting therapy.
"It made me angry and hurt all over again, but honestly it made me more determined than ever to talk about what he did,” Ashley said.
Ashley made a report with Sellersburg Police in 2020, but they told her too much time had passed.
WRTV showed Indianapolis Metro Police the state’s complaint against Shewell, and IMPD said they referred the case to the Indiana Department of Child Services.
A DCS spokesperson told us, "Indiana law prohibits disclosure of our involvement."
Nation and other former students say the system failed to protect them.
“The school could have done a lot more,” Nation said.
Shewell’s former students are urging schools to improve their hiring processes and create anonymous tiplines for reporting misconduct.
"I want to see change in schools,” Nation said. "This is an opportunity for us to be heard as victims and so schools can understand what they need to do to fix this problem."
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.
WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP SCHOOLS’ STATEMENT
Washington Township Schools fired Mr. Shewell effective May 26, 2020 after the District learned that he 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. The decision to terminate Mr. Shewell’s employment did not involve District students and was unrelated to allegations of inappropriate conduct regarding District students.
Following Mr. Shewell’s termination, the District received additional concerns from students, primarily students from his prior school employer. The District, through its outside counsel, thoroughly investigated these claims and reviewed District policies and practices. While these reports did bring troubling news to light regarding his behavior at the prior school employer, the reports identified no new evidence of inappropriate sexual conduct regarding Washington Township Schools students. Additionally, and before any issues regarding Mr. Shewell came to light, the District made important changes to its hiring practices to require a more thorough review of candidates through its continuing efforts to improve its practices.
The District takes seriously its commitment to provide a safe learning environment for its students, and it will continue to pursue the safety of its students with vigilance. The District alerted the Indiana Department of Education regarding this matter, and the District applauds the hard work of the IDOE in investigating this matter. Washington Township Schools will continue cooperating with the IDOE as the IDOE investigates Mr. Shewell’s conduct.
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.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION PROVIDED BY THE INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION
Educator Licenses – Criminal Convictions
- Schools, prosecutors and judges are required to notify IDOE of any convictions against educators (IC 20-28-5-8). Additionally, the Office of Court Services shares all educator criminal convictions monthly.
- IDOE uses this information to permanently revoke licenses, as required by state law.
- The convicted educator will then not be eligible to teach in a licensed Indiana school. Their license revocation is reported to the National Association of State Directors of Teachers Education (NASDTEC) clearinghouse, which states check before approving or renewing an educator’s license.
- A teacher with a revoked license (under IC 20-28-5-7) can seek reinstatement after three years; however, this reinstatement request would be required to go in front of an administrative law judge, who would consider the reasons for the original revocation.
- Licenses that were permanently revoked (under IC 20-28-5-8) may not be reinstated unless a conviction is overturned.
Educator Licenses – Misconduct/Allegations (No Conviction)
- School superintendents and school attorneys are in regular communication with IDOE to report misconduct (even when it doesn’t reach a legal conviction), which IDOE investigates.
- Schools are not legally required to notify IDOE in cases of allegations of educator immorality or misconduct. However, school superintendents and school attorneys do regularly share with IDOE misconduct that did not rise to the level of criminal convictions but warrant action on educator’s license.
- In these cases, the Secretary of Education has the authority to take action on licenses in situations involving immorality, misconduct in office, neglect of duty or incompetency (IC 20-28-5-7). After investigating, the IDOE then can take legal action against the educator’s license. In some instances, the educator will voluntarily have his or her license revoked instead of going through further legal proceedings.
- The same rules then apply as above - the educator will then not be eligible to teach in an Indiana public school, and their license revocation is reported to the National Association of State Directors of Teachers Education (NASDTEC) clearinghouse (preventing them from going and teaching in another state). The educator can seek reinstatement after three years – however, again, this would require going in front of an administrative law judge.
DCS Required Reporting
- Indiana law (IC 31-33-5-1) requires any person who has a reason to believe a child is a victim of abuse or neglect to make a report to the Department of Child Services (DCS) or the police. Failure to report is a Class B Misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. This reminder is regularly circulated to Indiana schools.