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Washington Township students and parents urge school board and district to better protect students

Students say concerns not taken seriously
Students and parents protest outside the MSD Washington Township administration building
Posted at 11:05 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 00:10:12-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Two dozen students and parents in the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township held a protest Tuesday outside the administration building, urging school board members to make changes they say will better protect children in the district.

Students and parents held signs that said “keep our students safe,” “stop lying,” and “MSDWT must listen and protect students.”

The protesters hoped to get the attention of elected school board members heading into Tuesday’s 6 p.m. school board meeting, but organizers said none of the school board members stopped to talk with them about their concerns.

Students and parents said the school district needs to do a better job of addressing and properly investigating student concerns with regards to allegations involving teacher or staff misconduct or harassment involving students.

“The school has not provided a safe learning environment whatsoever,” Pamela Dunlap, a parent of a North Central High School student, said. “We need to have information on how these voices can be heard and they’re not being heard.”

They’re also asking the school corporation to improve employee training on how to identify red flags, as well as improve the reporting process for students who want to come forward with allegations of misconduct or harassment.

Last month, WRTV Investigates told you North Central High School fired teacher Nathan Shewell and Shewell's teaching license was revoked by the state this year following an Indiana Department of Education complaint that alleged misconduct involving students.

Tuesday, Washington Township students and parents said the district took way too long to take action.

PREVIOUS | Ex-students file notices of legal claims against district

Julia Opferman and her daughter Wilhelmina, a North Central High School student, said the district needs to offer resources and counseling to impacted students.

"It was a very negative experience for a lot of kids, and they're hurting,” Julia said. “Absolutely nothing has been said to those students at school. It's like this giant elephant in the room. There's been no support offered to students and no one has said anything.”

“Myself and my friends have all been affected by this, and I want to protect people in my grade and the people coming (into the school) after me,” Wilhelmina said.

North Central student Fiona Conlon and her mother Laura Conlon described a system within the school district in which students are not believed or listened to.

"I'm here because I've experienced with my friends and people I know who have reported this to all levels of school in Washington Township — middle school and high school, and they've received no answer and no help,” Fiona said. “Some have even been ostracized by their peers because teachers have allowed the information of who reported it to get out. That's a huge problem."

"It enrages me because the school district knows about these incidents and they're not doing anything to protect these children, and that's their main job — is to protect the kids who are going to their school,” said Laura Conlon.

WRTV Investigates reached out to the school board members of MSD Washington Township.

The school board president provided the following statement Tuesday:

“On behalf of the board I would like to share the following information with you at this time.

The MSD Washington Township School Board is disturbed and disgusted by the recent accounts from former North Central students regarding inappropriate behavior displayed by ex-teacher Nathan Shewell.

In 2020, the District was contacted by Ms. Ashley Nation, a former student of Shewell when he taught at a previous school. Ms. Nation revealed Shewell’s past illicit behavior toward her and other non-district students. As soon as the District learned this information, Shewell was fired for concealing his history during the hiring process. The District also worked with Ms. Nation to connect her with her local law enforcement and the Indiana Department of Education.

After Shewell’s termination, the District received additional concerns from students (mostly non-Washington Township students) and launched a thorough investigation through its outside counsel. While these reports did bring disturbing 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.

MSD Washington Township Schools stands with all victims and is actively working on how to better ensure that misbehavior and harassment gets reported to the administration. “

On February 23, MSD Washington Township also sent letters from Superintendent Dr. Nikki Woodson to parents outlining similar statements.

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.

Last week, the district also 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.”

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.

Shewell has also not responded to allegations made in the Indiana Department of Education’s complaint against him.

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

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