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Española schools avoid steep penalty

April 28–Española Public Schools will not have to pay $2.5 million of a $3.2 million settlement in a 2014 lawsuit involving a former teacher accused of sexually assaulting students in Santa Fe and Española, as officials previously feared.

The New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority will pay $750,000 to satisfy a deductible for the claim, according to a claims supervisor. And private insurers will cover the balance of the $3.2 million paid to the family of a fourth-grader who said she was sexually assaulted by the onetime teacher Gary Gregor at Fairview Elementary School during the 2007-08 school year.

The insurance authority and private insurers reached the arrangement in arbitration after one of the private firms balked at paying the settlement, arguing the school district knew or should have known — but didn’t disclose on its insurance forms — that Gregor had been accused of sexual misconduct before he began working in Española schools.

Gregor has faced repeated allegations of abusing students since the mid-1990s — first in Utah, then in Montana — but he continued to teach young students for about 15 years after the first accusations emerged.

Concerns about him were raised in Santa Fe in 2004, and the parents of at least one young female student in Española filed a report with police in 2009, alleging he had abused their daughter.

The state Attorney General’s Office indicted Gregory on criminal charges in 2017. Since then, he has been held in jail, awaiting trial on more than a dozen counts of criminal sexual contact or criminal sexual penetration of a child under 13.

The $3.2 million settlement is the second one officials have reached with plaintiffs who claimed Gregor sexually assaulted their children. Another case was settled for $4.37 million, and complaints by four more former students of inappropriate conduct by Gregor are pending, according to claims supervisor Gary Ramirez.

Under the agreement with the insurance carriers, Española Public Schools will avoid having to pay the disputed amount in the $3.2 million case, but the settlements also could mean an increase in the annual premium the district pays to the insurance authority for coverage.

"It’s my understanding that they might have to pay more into the pool if it’s determined that they behaved in a reckless or negligent manner," said attorney Carolyn Nichols, who represents the plaintiffs in the case.

Española Public Schools’ annual premium is $1.58 million, according to the insurance authority’s chief financial officer, Richard Valerio, who said existing polices allow the premium to be increased by up to 25 percent per year.

At the school’s current rate, that could be an increase of as much as $400,000 per year.

Money aside, Nichols said Friday: "I hope [the schools] are motivated just by the fact that there has been so many victims of this one individual, to be more vigilant just to protect their students."

Contact Phaedra Haywood at 986-3068 or phaywood@sfnewmexican.com. Follow her on Twitter at @phaedraann.

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