Published: December 28, 2011
An unseemly tale of sexual misconduct by a former Parkland High School teacher — and school officials’ failure to report an earlier allegation against him — closed quietly last week when a lawsuit against the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools was settled.
The details of the case against Steven Kennard Waddell are disgusting. According to court testimony, he groped a 16-year-old girl in April 2010 on campus, asked her if she’d suck his toes and offered her $2 if she would send him pictures.
Perhaps worse, though, is the idea that the girl could have been spared the anguish and humiliation that followed had school officials reported to law enforcement an earlier allegation against Waddell. State law requires prompt reporting of sex-abuse allegations.
“If that prior incident had been properly reported, we believe there would be a good possibility this incident could have been avoided and not happened,” said David Daggett, the attorney who represented the girl and her family in the lawsuit against the school system.
Long time in the making
This particular story was nearly six years in the making. Waddell, a computer technology teacher at Parkland, was accused of similar misconduct in 2006.
Instead of notifying law enforcement, school officials — including then-school attorney Drew Davis — conducted their own investigation. No charges were filed, and Waddell was allowed to remain on the job.
Four years later, on April 22, 2010, the incident involving the 16-year-old occurred. The girl had gone to an office, saying she didn’t feel well. Waddell encountered her there, and when a secretary left to get hot water for tea, he fondled her.
To her credit, the girl reported what happened. School administrators acted immediately and appropriately this time. The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office was notified that day.
Waddell entered an Alford plea to two counts of taking indecent liberties with a child, meaning he did not admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence to convict him. He was given two separate six- to eight-month suspended sentences and put on supervised probation. He was required to register as a sex offender and was fired.
The State Bureau of Investigation was called in to review whether school officials broke — or just plain ignored — state law. Results of that investigation are pending. In November 2010, the school board and Davis, the school attorney, parted ways.
School officials — including Superintendent Don Martin and School Board members — seem to have learned their lesson about quickly calling in law enforcement when allegations are made. A handful of sexual-misconduct cases have come up since; the most recent involves a music teacher at East Forsyth High School who was charged this month with taking indecent liberties with a minor.
Still hanging, though, was the civil suit in the case involving Waddell. The family formally asked for unspecified damages after the criminal case was wrapped up 11 months ago.
Daggett and representatives of Montgomery Insurance, the company hired by the school system to cover them in these sorts of cases and others, finalized a settlement last week.
By agreement, the terms — how much — are confidential. That’s perfectly legal, too, because public money didn’t technically change hands.
“We wanted it to be confidential, too, because it protects the young lady’s identity,” Daggett said.
Because it’s the holiday break and the case involves a confidential settlement, no one with the school system would comment.
“Allegations of sexual misconduct are tricky,” Daggett said. “They require people who are qualified to perform such investigations.
“The family is pleased to have this concluded and hope these proceedings have been helpful in tightening up the reporting process, which in turn will prevent or limit future incidents from occurring.”