Havre Daily News
A former Havre teacher will receive a $200,000 settlement from Havre Public Schools.
School board members on Tuesday approved the settlement for former middle school teacher Lorna Stremcha, who alleged sexual harassment, civil rights violations, negligence and retaliation in connection to an incident involving a former student in 2002 and her dismissal in 2003.
Stremcha filed two lawsuits, one in state District Court and one in U.S. District Court.
“It has not been about the money,” Stremcha said while sitting in the hallway during the board's hour-long executive session. Members held the session to discuss litigation strategy.
According to an HPS press release, the settlement will be paid with district liability insurance funds. Stremcha agreed to drop her lawsuits and release any further claims against the school district, the press release said.
“The settlement agreement involves no admission of any liability or wrong doing on the part of school officials, and both the Board of Trustees and the school employees involved with the case adamantly deny that Stremcha was ever treated unfairly or unlawfully,” the press release said.
HPS officials and board members declined to comment further.
Stremcha claimed in her lawsuits that the district allowed an 18-year-old former student to enter Havre Middle School and subject her to “intense sexual harassment and discrimination.” She claimed that district officials failed to take action after the incident.
She filed a complaint with the Montana Human Rights Bureau in August 2002. She alleged that the district retaliated against her by soliciting complaints from students and parents against her when she would not remain quiet about the incident, and finally firing her in April 2003.
Stremcha began teaching at Havre Middle School in 1993.
The state Human Rights Bureau concluded that evidence did not support Stremcha's claim. Later, the Montana Human Rights Commission dismissed her complaint.
Stremcha said the hardest part of filing the complaints was the impact it had on her two children. When her son, who is in college, and daughter, who is in high school, asked Stremcha why she had stuck with the lawsuits, she said she reminded the two about a lesson she taught students about Anne Frank and Martin Luther King Jr.
“I would ask the students ‘If you had the opportunity to stand up for something, how many of you would remain standing and take the bullet?'” she said, adding that she would always raise her hand. Stremcha said she would be a hypocrite if she didn't stand up for what she thought was right.
“If I did something wrong, I would be the first to admit it,” she added.
In the press release, superintendent Kirk Miller and board chair Denise Thompson maintained that the district did nothing wrong, but said a trial could prove too costly.
“All of us at Havre Public Schools continue to feel very, very strongly that all of the actions we took with respect to Ms. Stremcha were fair, appropriate and legal in every respect,” Miller said in the written statement.
Thompson said in the written statement: “Although the trustees feel very strongly that there was no wrongdoing on the District's part, we also understand the economic factors that motivated the decision to settle the two lawsuits. The alternative of proceeding to trial at this point could potentially have us putting taxpayer dollars at risk, and that wasn't acceptable to us. At the end of the day, the resolution of these cases will allow our administrative staff to focus their attention and energies toward the many pressing issues facing the District.”