Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Mid-July court date set for SMS teacher/coach charged with sex crimes against students

A hearing is currently scheduled to be held in Alamance County superior court next month in a lawsuit filed against the Alamance-Burlington school board on behalf of a minor female plaintiff who claims to have been the victim of “sexual abuse” by a former teacher and girls’ soccer coach at Southern Middle School.

The two sides also have been given a deadline of August 20, 2024 to attempt to settle the civil suit through mediation, and a court hearing is scheduled for the week of July 15, according to Alamance County court records.

The former teacher at the center of the dispute, Ivan Danilo Ardila-Perez, who was arrested in April 2023 on criminal charges related to the alleged incidents, is not a defendant to the civil suit.  He was subsequently fired by ABSS in May 2023.

The lawsuit has been filed against the school board by Jill Berman, a guardian ad litem acting on behalf of the minor plaintiff, identified in the court file by the initials M.G. to protect her identity from public disclosure.

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Ardila-Perez, 37, white, male, of 3627 Maple Avenue, Burlington, was charged on April 26, 2023 by the Alamance County sheriff’s office with multiple counts of felony indecent liberties with a child and multiple counts of felony indecent liberties with a student, for offenses that allegedly occurred early last year, while he was employed as teacher and coach at the middle school, according to his court files.

Ivan Danilo Ardila-Perez

Ardila-Perez remains in custody at the Alamance County jail under a $300,000 secured bond, pending trial on his criminal charges.

The lawsuit, which is separate from the criminal cases pending against Ardila-Perez, alleges that the minor female plaintiff had been enrolled in the seventh grade at Southern Middle School during the 2022-23 school year and had been assigned to his class.  The plaintiff alleges that she, along with several other female students at Southern Middle, reported the alleged “sexual harassment and/or abuse” by Ardila-Perez to the school principal (Matt Ritter) and assistant principal (Terran Harris) but no action was taken.

The complaint states, “During this meeting, the students disclosed that a teacher [Ardila-Perez] made them uncomfortable because he was overly ‘grabby’ and ‘touchy’ and asked that they be taken out of his class.”

Specifically, the civil suit alleges that, during the spring of 2023, the minor female plaintiff was “sexually abused during school hours and on school grounds by Ardila-Perez when he groped” her, “rubbed her panty line [and] her buttocks,” “cupped [her] breasts,” “ran his hands between her legs,” and tried to kiss her.

In addition to the now-former principal and former assistant principal, the lawsuit further alleges that the school board also took no action to remove the plaintiff from Ardila-Perez’s class or “minimize the risk of sexual abuse and/or harassment” to her.

The minor female plaintiff is seeking more than $25,000 in damages against the school board under multiple alleged causes of action, including negligence.

“Due to its willful and deliberate indifference to the sexual intimidation, abuse, exploitation, and harassment” by Ardila-Perez, the lawsuit alleges, the school board deprived the plaintiff of her state constitutional right to a sound basic education and failed in its duty to provide a safe learning environment.  In addition to damages, the plaintiff is also seeking an award for court costs, attorneys’ fees, and interest.

As part of its response to the suit, the school board has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for alleged failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted.

The school board denies all of the other substantive allegations by the minor female plaintiff, though it does acknowledge that Ardila-Perez had been suspended and later fired after school officials were informed of the criminal investigation.  The school board further contends that its “alleged acts or omissions were not the ‘cause-in-fact’ of any harm suffered by the plaintiff” and that it should not be held liable for any monetary damages, based on the response to the suit that has been filed in Alamance County civil superior court.

 

Court files outline similar allegations by multiple female students

Ardila-Perez was indicted on September 25, 2023 on the multiple counts of felony indecent liberties with a student and felony indecent liberties with a child.

At least five minor victims, who are identified in Alamance County criminal court files by their initials, have accused him of indecent liberties with a student and indecent liberties with a child; two additional court files give no details about the alleged victims.

Ardila-Perez was initially suspended with pay on April 26 and fired on May 9, 2023, based on the semimonthly personnel report that school board members approved at the time.

The suit asserts, “Ardila-Perez was suspended on or about April 26, only after [the school board] was contacted by law enforcement regarding their criminal investigation of alleged inappropriate sexual contact between Ardila-Perez and students at Southern Middle School.”

Then-superintendent Dr. Dain Butler insisted at a May 1, 2023 press conference with Alamance County sheriff Terry Johnson that he had not been notified of the alleged offenses or the criminal investigation until around Wednesday, April 26, 2023.

Multiple investigators within the sheriff’s Special Victims Unit (SVU) began working the investigation after a parent of one of the alleged victims called 911 the morning of April 26, according to a chronology given at the subsequent joint press conference.

The Alamance News later learned that Ritter, then-principal at Southern Middle School, had been informed of the allegations on Friday, April 21, 2023.

North Carolina law carries mandatory reporting requirements for alleged crimes juveniles that involve allegations of abuse, neglect, violence, or indecent liberties.

School officials, however, gave no indication at the time that Ritter had failed to report the alleged offenses to law enforcement on or after April 21.  Neither the former principal nor the assistant principal at Southern Middle School appears to have been charged in connection with the alleged inappropriate sexual conduct by Ardila-Perez, based on Alamance County court files.

Ritter was suspended with pay on April 26, 2023, and his employment contract was not renewed by the school board prior to its expiration in June 2023, based on personnel reports approved at the time. (Harris, the former assistant principal at Southern Middle School, took a job for the 2023-24 school year as an assistant principal at an elementary school in Guilford County, according to Guilford County schools.)

Hearing in criminal cases against Ardila-Perez scheduled for August 5

ABSS officials later confirmed for The Alamance News that Ardila-Perez had been hired at Southern Middle School in September 2022 and recruited through Participate Learning in Chapel Hill, one of several organizations ABSS works with that allows teachers from other countries to teach in North Carolina public schools on temporary work visas. His starting salary was $52,405 per year.

Ardila-Perez had previously been employed as a faculty member in the foreign language institute at the Universidad Santo Tomás in Colombia, according to his online resume.

Meanwhile, Ardila-Perez’s criminal cases have been continued several times and are currently scheduled to be heard in superior court on August 5, according to Alamance County court files.

The minor female plaintiff is being represented for her lawsuit against the school board by Robert O. Jenkins of the Lanier Law Group in Greensboro.

David B. Nolan of the Tharrington-Smith law firm in Raleigh is representing the school board.

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