SAN JOSE (CBS SF) – A jury awarded a total of $102.5 million to two women who sued their local school district after they were both molested by a popular music teacher years ago while they attended a San Jose middle school.
The two victims sued the Union School District after they were sexually assaulted by band teacher Samuel Neipp from 2009-2017. The lawsuit accused the school district of ignoring numerous warnings about Neipp's behavior and prioritizing the reputation of the school band.
"These young women are the true heroes in this story. This verdict proves that members of our community will not tolerate school districts that put the image and reputation of the school over the safety of children from sexual abuse," said Lauren Cerri, who represented one victim who was awarded $65 million. The other victim was awarded $37.5 million.
The two plaintiffs were students at Dartmouth Middle School when Neipp, a music teacher in his late 20s, began grooming them "by sending text messages, emails and regularly spending time alone with each of them in his classroom," according to a statement from the plaintiffs' attorneys.
"This escalated to sexually suggestive remarks, holding their hands, and kissing and touching them while they each were alone on separate occasions in his classroom," the statement read.
According to the lawsuit, school administrators received concerns from a parent that Neipp was sending inappropriate text messages to her 13-year-old daughter in 2010. Then again, in 2013, another parent brought inappropriate text messages between Neipp and her 13-year-old daughter to the attention of the principal and other school district administrators.
"The district did nothing to increase the supervision of Neipp or the students in response to these complaints and instead gave the music teacher tenure and recognition as its Teacher of the Year," the statement read.
In 2017, Neipp was arrested and charged with several felonies related to sexual abuse. He pled no contest. A jury sentenced him to 52 years in prison.
Despite Neipp's arrest, retired school and district administrators continued to praise his tenure, "dismissing the multiple red flags that Neipp was a sexual predator and that the band program's success came at the cost of the abuse of multiple students. These same witnesses attended closing arguments in support of the District's defense," the statement read.
"No one should have to endure what these two young women went through to obtain justice," said Natalie Weatherford, the other attorney in the trial. "For years the District turned a blind eye to parent and student complaints that Neipp was a sexual predator. Even more outrageous is that the District gave Neipp tenure and awarded him Teacher of the Year after receiving detailed complaints that he was targeting and boundary crossing with several middle school girls. This verdict should be a wake-up call to all schools in America that they need to put an end to teacher-student sexual abuse now."
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