Springfield schools slammed with twin suits

Former A3 student and vice principal sue over sexual abuse, defamation

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On May 7, a former student at the Academy of Arts and Academics in Springfield filed a lawsuit against the Springfield School District, former Superintendent Nancy Golden and Human Resources Director Roger Jordan.

The suit was filed by Portland-based lawyer Barbara C. Long on behalf of her client, who currently wishes to remain anonymous. It claims that school district officials knew about sexual abuse allegations against former A3 director Michael Fisher and did not do enough to protect the student. Fisher committed suicide on Feb. 1 after being put on administrative leave by the district after the allegations surfaced.

The student is seeking five million dollars in damages from the district, but her lawyer says it’s about more than just money. According to Long, the plaintiff wishes to see teachers and administrators receive proper training in order to spot and report sexual abuse and improved policies to hold abusers accountable.

On May 8, former A3 vice principal Ed Mendelssohn also announced his intention to sue the school district for “slander, libel… and intentional infliction of emotional distress,” according to court documents. Mendelssohn’s attorney, Randy J. Harvey, claims that members of the A3 board “insinuated that Mr. Mendelssohn engaged in criminal activity by failing to report child abuse, and [insinuated] that Mr. Mendelssohn had earlier knowledge of Mr. Fisher’s crimes against students. All of which are false.”

An investigation by police and the Springfield School District found no wrongdoing on the part of the vice principal, but Mendelssohn and his attorneys claim that the allegations against him — which were reported in the Register-Guard in the aftermath of Fisher’s suicide — caused “irreparable harm to his personal and professional reputation and loss of employment opportunities.” Mendelssohn is seeking well over six million dollars in damages from the district.

Suspicions about Fisher’s abuse had been floated for years, but little was done to address it. According to police, the abuse began in 2006 — the same year the charter school opened — and continued throughout the plaintiff’s time at the school and into her adulthood. In 2007, the school district received a report about Fisher’s public behavior, when he was seen holding hands with the plaintiff — then a sophomore at A3 — and giving her rides home. The suit alleges that then-Superintendent Golden asked Jordan not to investigate the report. Later, in 2015, the A3 governing board received two reports of abuse by Fisher but chose not to act on them, according to police reports.

Golden, who helped start A3, left the Springfield School District in 2013 to work with former Governor John Kitzhaber as his education advisor and later became Chief Education Officer for Oregon schools. After retiring as CEO in 2015, she accepted a position at the University of Oregon’s College of Education as a professor of practice, where she mentors both alumni and professors on matters of educational policy.

Police closed the Fisher case shortly after his suicide, but urge anyone who may have been victimized by the director to come forward and speak to investigators. The Springfield School District has acknowledged the lawsuits, but representatives declined to comment further. The district has 21 days to respond to the suit. No hearings have been scheduled as of yet.

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