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Families seek millions in damages from OPS after first-grade teacher sexually assaulted students

Three claims have been filed against the Omaha Public Schools alleging that the district failed to keep students safe from a former first-grade teacher who sexually assaulted them.

The teacher, 31-year-old Gregory Sedlacek, was sentenced last month to 50 to 100 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually assaulting three students. He must serve 40 years before becoming eligible for parole. Absent parole, he would serve 65 years before release.

He was accused of sexually assaulting a total of six students, ages 6 and 7, but prosecutors dropped additional charges in exchange for his guilty pleas.

Sedlacek taught at Fontenelle Elementary School at 3905 N. 52nd St. Eric Nelson, the former principal of the school, is awaiting trial on a child abuse charge on allegations that he failed to report Sedlacek’s behavior.

Nelson’s resignation from the district went into effect Wednesday.

The claims, obtained through a public records request, involved two students and were filed against OPS in January, March and June by attorneys Bill Bianco and Cathy Trent-Vilim.

People seeking damages from a local government must first file a tort claim. If they’re not satisfied with the governmental entity’s response, then they can file a lawsuit. As of Thursday, no lawsuits had been filed.

Two of the claims seek more than $1 million and $5 million in damages, respectively. The third claim, filed on behalf of the father of one of the students, seeks $100,000 in damages.

Bianco, who represents the father and daughter, said he will be filing a lawsuit soon on behalf of his clients. The family does not want to relive what happened in court, he said, but they have received little communication from OPS on the matter.

The 7-year-old girl has night terrors and other emotional issues, and the father wants to ensure that his daughter is taken care of, Bianco said. He also wants to make sure that no other kids can be treated the same way.

In a statement, the school district said it remains dedicated to providing a safe school environment for all students.

“We take great care to ensure all our employees understand that they are mandatory reporters under Nebraska law,” the statement says. “As recently as January 2019, all district employees received training to reinforce the fact that they are obligated to report any suspicions of child abuse and neglect to CPS immediately.”

Sedlacek was arrested in December.

One of the claims is from a student assaulted on the playground during recess. A student teacher and a teacher saw Sedlacek place his hand up the student’s skirt. One of them took a photo of the incident. The two told Nelson, according to the claim, but Nelson did nothing and allowed Sedlacek to continue teaching.

The next day, the teacher came to school and saw Sedlacek tutoring students. The teacher then went to the assistant principal, and authorities were contacted, according to the claim.

The student told investigators that Sedlacek had digitally penetrated her several times. The abuse, the claim says, started the first week of school and continued until Sedlacek was caught.

The student said that the abuse was painful and that on at least one occasion, she experienced bleeding, according to the claim.

Sedlacek started grooming the girl when she was a kindergartner, the claim alleges. He would tell the girl that she was his “favorite” and give her hugs.

“Sedlacek was working to develop a level of trust between he and (the student) so he could eventually transition from grooming her to abusing her,” the claim says.

The claim alleges that the district failed to properly train staff to spot Sedlacek’s grooming behavior and adequately train teachers on mandatory reporting, noting that the teacher who initially saw the playground incident should have reported it to authorities.

The district had an opportunity to rescue the student from abuse but instead “sent her back to her molester, subjecting her to further physical and emotional trauma,” the claim says. “OPS’s conduct was shameful.”

OPS also failed to vet Sedlacek and supervise him, the claim alleges.

Before starting at Fontenelle Elementary in 2016, Sedlacek was a paraprofessional at the Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. There, behavior such as excessive hugging and tickling of students led to his firing.

He later joined the Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis but was dismissed the next year. A Red Cloud school district official contacted the Archdiocese of Omaha in confidence after learning that Sedlacek had entered the seminary.

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In a letter, the official said Sedlacek’s contract with the school district wasn’t renewed because he violated a policy on maintaining appropriate boundaries with children, a spokesman for the archdiocese said. Sedlacek was dismissed from the seminary following a hearing in 2014 after the letter was received, an archdiocesan official has said.

The claim also alleges that OPS’s written policies on reporting abuse do not conform to Nebraska law and place students in danger.

OPS is currently facing a federal lawsuit tied to teacher misconduct. The lawsuit was filed in 2017 on behalf of a former Alfonza W. Davis Middle School student who was sexually assaulted by former teacher Brian Robeson.

Last year, the OPS school board approved a $175,000 settlement with a former student who said in a lawsuit that former teacher Shad Knutson manipulated her, asked her for sex acts and touched her inappropriately while he was her teacher and a coach for the district.

Notable crime news of 2019

Articles
Walloped by heat, island's ice undergoes massive melt
GREENLAND

BERLIN (AP) — The heat wave that smashed temperature records in five European countries a week ago is now over Greenland, accelerating the melting of the island's ice sheet and causing massive ice loss in the Arctic.

Greenland, the world's largest island, is a semi-autonomous Danish territory between the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans that has 82% of its surface covered in ice.

The area of the Greenland ice sheet that is showing indications of melt has been growing daily, and hit a record 56.5% for this year on Wednesday, said Ruth Mottram, a climate scientist with the Danish Meteorological Institute. She said that was expected to expand and peak on Thursday before lower temperatures slow the pace of the melt.

More than 11 billion U.S. tons of ice was lost to the oceans by surface melt on Wednesday alone, creating a net mass ice loss of some 217 billion U.S. tons from Greenland in July, she said.

"It looks like the peak will be today," she said Thursday from Copenhagen, Denmark.

The scope of July's ice melt is difficult to grasp, but it corresponds to a 0.02-inch rise in global sea levels, said Martin Stendel, a researcher with the Danish institute.

This might seem inconsequential, but every increment of sea-level rise provides a higher launchpad for storms to more easily flood coastal areas.

In Greenland, the melt area this year is the second biggest in terms of ice area affected. In 2012, more than 90% of the Greenland ice sheet showed detectable surface melting, said Mark Serreze, director of the Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado. Records go back to 1981.

A lot of what melts can later refreeze onto the ice sheet, but because of the relatively warm conditions ahead of this summer's heat wave, the amount of ice lost for good this year might be the same as in 2012 or more, according to scientists.

"This is certainly a weather event superimposed on this overall trend of warmer conditions" that have increasingly melted Greenland ice over the long term, Serreze said.

With man-made climate change, "there's a potential for these kind of rates to become more common 50 years from now," said Snow and Ice Data Center scientist Twila Moon.

Heat waves have always occurred. But Mike Sparrow, a spokesman for the U.N. World Meteorological Organization, noted that extreme heat waves are occurring at least 10 times more frequently than a century ago. This year, the world saw its hottest month of June ever.

"These kind of heat waves are weather events and can occur naturally, but studies have shown that both the frequency and intensity of these heat waves have increased due to global warming," Sparrow said from Geneva.

This report includes material from the Washington Post.


Money
An Omaha neighborhood is No. 2 on a national ranking of hottest housing markets

When it comes to hot housing markets, a southwest Omaha ZIP code is feeling the sizzle.

Realtor.com, in its latest Market Hotness Index, catapulted 68144 to the No. 2 spot nationally after analyzing some 32,000 ZIP codes and how quickly houses were viewed and sold.

Area residents might remember that two years ago, the 68144 ZIP code — northeast of Zorinsky Lake — made No. 16 on the real estate listing website’s list. Now it’s second only to a ZIP code in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a notch above one in Boise, Idaho.

The cast of new hotties represents a general shift toward metro areas less packed with people as millennials are priced out of big cities, according to the analysis on Realtor.com, which is affiliated with the National Association of Realtors.

Last year’s top tier included more towns on the outskirts of large, densely populated cities such as New York and San Francisco, whereas this year’s steaming lineup has half the total number of households of their predecessors.

“Affordable housing and high-paying jobs ... are attracting many ‘boomerang buyers’ back to the (Omaha) area after living in other more expensive parts of the country,” the Realtor.com report says.

“Even though buyers are moving to smaller markets, they are looking to retain an urban lifestyle by living closer to the city center,” Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com, wrote in the report.

“This tells us that today’s home buyers are trying to have it all — proximity to downtown, room to grow and affordability — and they’re finding it outside of the biggest cities in the U.S.”

While Omaha’s 68144 ZIP code is 12 miles west of downtown, Doug Dohse of the Omaha Area Board of Realtors noted that it’s in the thick of new development, including the growing Sterling Ridge mixed-use campus near 132nd and Pacific Streets.

Dohse, a sales associate at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Ambassador Real Estate, also noted that 68144 is just outside the new 500-acre Heartwood Preserve development that’s gearing up for a mix of uses, including senior living, apartments, houses and retail shops.

Companies set to build office campuses at Heartwood include Applied Underwriters, the Carson Group and Valmont Industries.

“There’s a lot of anticipation about what is next for this part of the city,” Dohse said.

He said the Millard area is landlocked, with not much room for new housing, which contributes to rising property values and rapid turnaround of a dwindling number of for-sale homes.

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The 68144 ZIP code has a mix of high-end and starter homes, a strong school system and relatively affordable housing, according to the Realtor.com report. It says on average, homes sell 21 days after going on the market, which is 36 days faster than the national average, and have a median listing price of $238,950, up about 6% over last year.

Millennials, according to the group’s research, are the dominant buying segment in 68144. They account for 43% of new mortgages and earn about $10,000 more each year than the national average for their age group.

Others in the top-10 list are ZIP codes in Shawnee, Kansas; Rochester, New York; Livonia, Michigan; Melrose, Massachusetts; Arlington, Texas; Goffstown, New Hampshire; and Colorado Springs, Colorado.

As a group, those ZIP codes sell houses in 17 days on average, 40 days faster than the rest of the country and 20 days faster than their respective metro areas. Realtor.com users view homes in those markets three times more often than homes in the rest of the country.

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Govt-and-politics
breaking
Bipartisan budget deal clears Congress, averting threat of shutdown till after 2020 election

WASHINGTON (AP) — A hard-won budget and debt deal easily cleared the Senate on Thursday, powered by President Donald Trump's endorsement and a bipartisan drive to cement recent spending increases for the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

The legislation passed by a 67-28 vote as Trump and his GOP allies relied on lots of Democratic votes to propel it over the finish line.

Passage marked a drama-free solution to a worrisome set of looming Washington deadlines as both allies and adversaries of the president set aside ideology in exchange for relative fiscal peace and stability. The measure, which Trump has promised to sign, would permit the government to resume borrowing to pay all its bills and would set an overall $1.37 trillion limit on agency budgets approved by Congress annually.

It also would remove the prospect of a government shutdown in October or the threat of deep automatic spending cuts.

The administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., played strong hands in the talks that sealed the agreement last week, producing a pragmatic measure that had much for lawmakers to dislike.

Trump did step back from a possible fight over spending increases sought by liberals, and achieved his priorities on Pentagon budgets and the stock market-soothing borrowing limit. Pelosi won remarkable Democratic unity in pushing the bill through the House last week despite Democratic divides on issues such as impeachment and health care.

Democrats in the GOP-controlled Senate delivered most of their votes for the deal. Many of the more solidly conservative Republicans said it allowed for unchecked borrowing and too much spending.

Carolyn Kaster 

President Donald Trump prepares to speak to the media as arrives at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 30, 2019, as the returns from Virgina. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The measure was an epitaph to the 2011 Budget Control Act, which came about due to a tea party-fueled battle over debt limit legislation during the run-up to President Barack Obama's re-election. That law promised more than $2 trillion in deficit cuts through 2021, including automatic spending cuts that were put in place after the failure of a so-called deficit supercommittee.

"It's not just Democrats. Republicans are also guilty. At least the big-government Republicans who will vote for this monstrous addition of debt," said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. "Many of the supporters of this debt deal ran around their states for years complaining that, 'President Obama's spending too much and borrowing too much,' and these same Republicans now, the whole disingenuous lot of them, will wiggle their way to the front of the trough."

The bill would lift the debt limit for two years, into either a second Trump term or the administration of a Democratic successor.

It would reverse scheduled 10 percent cuts to defense and nondefense programs next year, at a two-year cost of more than $200 billion. An additional $100 billion over two years would add to recent gains for military readiness, combating opioids and other domestic initiatives, and would keep pace with rising costs for veterans' health care.

Follow-up legislation would fill in the line-by-line details of agency budgets when the Senate returns in September.

Those increases, assuming they are repeated year after year, promise to add $2 trillion or so to the government's $22 trillion debt.

But the measure would deliver wins to a coalition of GOP defense hawks, Democrats seeking to preserve gains in domestic accounts, and the leaders of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees.

It also would be a triumph for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. He initiated the negotiations and was deeply invested in bringing order and relative predictability to the budget and debt deadlines.

"We have to invest in improved readiness to help our military commanders plan for emerging challenges, in research and development to support the U.S. military of the future, and in rock-solid support for our alliance commitments," McConnell said. "This deal is an opportunity to do exactly that. This is the agreement the administration has negotiated. This is the deal the House has passed. This is the deal President Trump is waiting and eager to sign into law."