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.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
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.