DENVER – The Cherry Creek School District announced Monday it had reached an $11.5 million settlement with the families of five victims of a former teacher at Prairie Middle School who pleaded guilty earlier this year to sexually assaulting or “sexting” with the students.
District Superintendent Scott A. Siegfried, Ph.D. made the announcement Monday in letters to parents of students at the district and the school, as well as to staffers at Prairie Middle School.
“We acknowledge that no amount of money can right the wrongs committed against these students by Mr. Vasquez. No student should ever suffer the injury and loss of innocence that these young women suffered as a result of the reprehensible actions of Mr. Vasquez,” Siegfried wrote in the letter home to district parents.
“The district is committed to doing right by these young women and their families and hopes this settlement brings some degree of closure so that they can move on with their lives and continue the healing process,” he added.
Qusair Mohamedbhai, an attorney for the victims, said in a statement that his clients appreciate the changes the district has undertaken in the wake of Vasquez's crimes.
"We are in awe of the strength and resilience of our five clients," Mohamedbhai said. "They are all survivors of unimaginable horrors, which occurred during their very young and formative years. Our clients appreciated the substantial policy changes and focused determination by Cherry Creek School District to ensure that their lifelong trauma will hopefully never be experienced by another student in Colorado."
Vasquez is set to be sentenced Friday in the case. He pleaded guilty in early July to six counts in the case, including sex assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, sexual exploitation of a child, internet exploitation of a child, and attempted sexual exploitation of a child.
Vasquez was originally charged with 41 felonies before the plea deal. The remaining charges were dropped. He had previously pleaded not guilty to all 41 counts.
Vasquez was arrested in August 2017 at the middle school, which is part of the Cherry Creek School District, after an investigation uncovered that he’d had inappropriate relationships with students of his at the school. He'd exchanged nude photos with several of them and had contact with at least one, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors alleged early in the case that Vasquez either exploited or assaulted five different victims over a period of four years. He was alleged to have had physical contact with at least one of the victims, prosecutors said, and he was barred from using the internet after his arrest because he’d sent and received nude photos with some of the victims.
Vasquez was fired in September after seven years as a social studies teacher and a coach in the “Destination Imagination” program. His arrest prompted charges of failure to report being filed against several school administrators, which are still being adjudicated.
According to Siegfried’s letter to parents, the district has undertaken a host of changes to its safety and security policies in the wake of Vasquez’s plea and the settlement, which was reached through mediators.
He said that the district has strengthened its mandatory protocol, re-trained all of its employees on mandatory reporting guidelines, implemented new pilot programs for students and parents to identify and respond to inappropriate situations, among other things.
According to prosecutors, Vasquez faces up to 40 years in prison per his plea deal when he is sentenced on Friday.
This is a developing news story and will be updated.