A federal judge has ruled that Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee and other high-ranking IPS officials may be named as defendants in lawsuits by two former school employees. The employees claim they were wrongly fired after IPS botched a response to reports of a sexual relationship between a student and a school counselor.
A parent on February 17, 2016 reported an inappropriate sexual relationship between a student at Longfellow Alternative School and counselor Shana Taylor, according to the record in the suits. The relationship was reported to William W. Jensen, then-assistant principal at Longfellow. He contacted his supervisor, then-director of student services Deborah Leser, who directed Jensen to contact Lela Tina Hester, IPS’s assistant superintendent of human resources.
“The very same day, IPS Superintendent, Dr. Ferebee, also learned of at least an inappropriate relationship between Taylor and the student,” Judge Tanya Walton Pratt wrote. “Hester advised Jensen not to contact the police, and assigned (Shalon) Dabney to investigate.” Six days later, Dabney told then-Longfellow principal Mark Cosand to report the abuse to the Department of Child Services.
Authorities subsequently charged Taylor with eight counts of Level 5 felony child seduction by a care worker and three counts of Level 6 felony dissemination of matter harmful to minors. Court records show Taylor agreed to plead guilty to the three dissemination counts, and she was sentenced to six years of home detention. She was not required to register as a sex offender but surrendered her teaching license under her plea deal.
Several school administrators — among them Cosand, Dabney and Hester — resigned or were fired in the aftermath of the scandal. State law requires school officials to immediately report suspected child abuse to police or the DCS, and Dabney and Hester were charged with failing to report. Both entered pretrial diversion programs.
After a hearing, the IPS board fired Jensen and Leser for insubordination and neglect of duty on June 30, 2016. Both sued shortly thereafter, claiming due process violations. On Thursday, Pratt allowed Jensen and Leser to amend their suits to add Ferebee as a defendant for his role in recommending their termination to the board. Pratt also allowed the fired workers to additionally name former deputy IPS superintendent Wanda Legrand, as well as Hester and IPS Chief Strategist Le Boler. All are alleged to have had knowledge and communicated about the improper relationship between the time the parent made a report and the time it was reported to DCS nearly a week later.
IPS officials had objected to a magistrate’s report in the cases recommending the new defendants be added to the suit, but Pratt largely affirmed the magistrate’s decision. She did, however, overrule the magistrate by deciding not to add Dabney as a defendant.
“As for Dr. Ferebee, Dr. Legrand, Hester, and Boler, there are sufficient plausible allegations, at this juncture, regarding their concerted involvement” with Jensen and Leser’s firings to be added as defendants.