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Española Public Schools won’t have to pay settlement

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Española Public Schools is off the hook for a $2.5 million payment that’s part of a settlement in one of three lawsuits involving a former teacher accused of having improper contact with female students.

The executive director of the New Mexico Public Schools Insurance Authority, which provides insurance coverage to school districts statewide, confirmed this week that Española Public Schools is covered in one of two cases involving former fourth-grade teacher Gary Gregor that have been settled.

Selective Insurance, a private insurer covering losses through the NMPSIA, had disputed $2.5 million of a $3.25 million settlement payment, saying the school district knew, or should have known, of potential claims against Gregor before the insurance policy was in place.

“Technically, it could go back on the Española Schools, but we’re an insurance pool and we spread the risk around,” said NMPSIA Executive Director Sammy Quintana, who added that the settlement had been in arbitration for several months.

Española Public Schools did have to pay the difference, which was about $750,000.

A claims administrator for NMPSIA told the Journal in November that the school district did not have to pay any of a $4.37 million settlement in a separate lawsuit that came later. Both of those lawsuits were filed by former students of Gregor, who because they were juveniles were identified in court documents only by their initials, though one has spoken publicly about her case.

A third lawsuit filed by four other girls – identified as Jane Does 1, 2, 3 and 4 – against the school district, one of its former principals and Gregor was filed in federal court last October.

Jerry Walz, an attorney retained by NMPSIA to represent the school district and the principal, said litigation in that case was progressing.

“Each case is different,” he said. “We’ll see where this one goes.”

The alleged incidents occurred while Gregor, now 61, was a teacher at Española’s Fairview Elementary School during the 2007-08 school year. He has been accused of touching the private parts of girls, inviting them to spend the night with him at his home, and giving them candy and teddy bears as gifts.

In addition, Gregor is facing multiple charges for sex crimes brought by the state Attorney General’s Office stemming from allegations that he sexually abused students in Española and while a fourth-grade teacher at Santa Fe’s Agua Fría Elementary School during the 2003-04 school year. In October and November, Gregor backed out of plea agreements at the last minute, prompting his attorney to sever ties with his client. Gregor is now represented by a public defender.

Allegations against Gregor first became public in New Mexico in 2011 when the state Public Education Department failed to renew his teaching license following accusations of improper behavior with female students in Española. It turned out that he had previously received a reprimand for similar actions while working for Santa Fe Public Schools. Nevertheless, he received a non-critical “neutral recommendation” from SFPS when he agreed to leave the district.

It later came to light that Gregor had faced child sex abuse charges in Utah that were dismissed in 1995 for lack of evidence. He had also been fired while working as a teacher in Montana for breaking a school policy barring teachers from after-school activities with students.

Gregor’s case has gained national attention as an example of “passing the trash” among school districts.

Gregor’s history was cited in a major series of investigative reports by USA Today on how teachers who sexually abuse children continue to work in schools.

Nallely Hernandez, Gregor’s alleged victim in the second case that was settled, has spoken openly about the case, including making an appearance on the ABC news program “Nightline.”

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