After two years of litigation, an Oklahoma school district has finally settled a lawsuit filed by the family of an eighth-grade student who was targeted for sexual activity by his English teacher. The teacher, a 31-year-old woman named Jennifer Caswell, has been imprisoned on sex crime changes since 2015, The Oklahoman reports. She was sentenced to 10 years of incarceration and will serve at the least a mandatory eight-and-a-half years.
Oklahoma Teacher Followed Student To Mississippi For Illegal Sex
Before her conviction, Caswell appeared on the “Dr. Phil” television show to discuss her sexual relationship with the boy. In the interview, Dr. Phil, a psychologist named Philip McGraw, put Caswell on the spot, suggesting that she had “violated the canon of [professional] ethics within six weeks” of receiving her teacher’s certificate. Caswell, in tears, said that the gravity of her misconduct had only sunk in after she was arrested in Mississippi for rape in the second degree, a felony, and enticing a child to a secluded location.
Court documents reported by The Oklahoman show that Caswell had been discovered by police in a Mississippi hotel room, along with the 15-year-old boy. She had followed the child to Mississippi, where he was on vacation with his mother.
Disgraced Educator Sentenced To Ten Years Of Prison
Inspiring the authorities to pursue charges against Caswell, however, proved difficult. The boy’s mother was adamant that criminal charges be filed against the teacher, but prosecutors took action only after weeks of requests from the distraught family. In an email to the district attorney, the boy’s mother wrote, “I almost feel like this is not being taken seriously because [the victim] is a boy and not a girl.”
Ultimately, the weight of evidence against Caswell was hard for prosecutors to ignore. She pleaded guilty to three counts rape in the second degree, one count of forcible sodomy and two counts of enticing a child, an Oklahoma criminal law that makes it a felony to “ask, invite, entice or persuade any child under sixteen years of age […] to go alone with any person to a secluded, remote, or secret place with the unlawful and willful intent and purpose then and there to commit any crime against public decency and morality […] with the child.”
Sexual Abuse Lawsuit Claims Severe Emotional Trauma
Almost immediately after her conviction, the boy’s father filed a civil sexual assault lawsuit against Caswell, the small Hollis, Oklahoma school district in which she had taught and a number of individual school district representatives. The family’s case, in which parents argued that their son had suffered severe emotional trauma after being repeatedly victimized by Caswell, was recently resolved with a $125,000 settlement.
In their lawsuit, the family says that Caswell’s abuse had dire consequences for their son. His grades and participation in extracurricular activities suffered, and he was subjected to humiliation when the news broke among his peers. “The truth is,” says their attorney Charles Watts, “that this has a terrible effect on a child. You can expect in his future life that he will have a hard time with relationships.”
Lawsuit: School District Tried To Hide Allegations
That settlement amount, however, does not appear wholly commensurate with the gravity of the allegations leveled against the school district. In their lawsuit, the boy’s family describe a series of extremely troubling claims, many of which revolve around the school district’s alleged coverup of the teacher’s illicit relationship with an underage child. After their son had disclosed his relationship with Caswell, the parents, according to sworn deposition, were met not by compassion but with threats.
Principal Asked To “Paddle” Student For “Spreading Lies,” Father Says
The school’s principal, Marty Webb, accused the boy of lying, the father said in a deposition. As rumors began to swirl through the school, Webb told the child’s father that his son “needed to keep his mouth closed,” the lawsuit claims. Stranger still, the principal told the child’s parents that he planned to paddle their son for spreading falsehoods, a form of punishment the family naturally refused to allow.
Blocked from corporal punishment, Webb instead placed the child on an in-school suspension, court documents say. Caswell soon resigned her possession at the Hollis Independent School District, but reportedly promised the woman that she would be able to remain a licensed teacher in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, her sexual relationship with the boy continued, according to court records from the criminal case against Caswell.
Hollis Public Schools vehemently denies these allegations. The school district maintains that the boy was never threatened with corporal punishment. Revoking a teacher’s license, school attorney Andy Fugitt says, is a job for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, not individual school districts. Fugitt claims the school reported the allegations against Caswell to police and the district attorney when the teacher resigned. The fact that the school now appears to have settled the family’s civil case is not an admission of liability.
Caswell Won’t Defend Herself Against Second Lawsuit
An additional lawsuit, filed solely against Caswell and claiming intentional infliction of emotional distress, is still pending in an Oklahoma City federal court. As The Oklahoman reports, Caswell has decided to refrain from defending herself against the lawsuit, although attorneys for the family fear that she does not have the financial resources to adequately compensate their clients.