ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Alaska school district agreed to pay $3.8 million to two children abused by a former principal who said school leaders had been “well aware of my problems with young girls” for years, news outlets reported.
Christopher Carmichael, an elementary school principal in Bethel, was arrested in December 2019 following an undercover investigation. Investigators found that Carmichael had sexually abused a former student, the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica reported.
Carmichael pleaded guilty to a federal charge of attempted coercion and enticement of a minor in November. In April, he pleaded guilty to separate state charges of sexual abuse of a minor. He is serving a 15-year federal prison sentence and declined comment to the outlets.
Two lawsuits were brought on behalf of four children against the Lower Kuskokwim School District in western Alaska that had employed Carmichael for nearly 20 years.
Carmichael, in an apology letter filed this year in state court, said district leaders were “well aware of my problems with young girls” as early as 2015.
The news outlets reported that documents they obtained through a records request showed district officials signed settlement agreements in one lawsuit in June through which one victim would receive $2.9 million and the other, $900,000.
A jury trial is set for later this year in the second lawsuit.
The district, in an initial reply to that case, said it had no evidence Carmichael abused the second two plaintiffs. The plaintiffs have since filed an amended complaint to which the district had not yet responded.
“This is a different case entirely, and we are going to be fighting it,” said Donald Austin, an attorney for the school district.
After Carmichael’s 2019 arrest, the superintendent at the time told a KYUK reporter: “We were blindsided by it. We did not have any prior knowledge that they were conducting an investigation.”
A 2020 investigation by the Anchorage Daily News, KYUK and ProPublica found parents had complained to police about Carmichael at least twice over the previous four years.
In an affidavit filed in one of the lawsuits, Carmichael said he “sexually abused and offensively touched” students under his care.
As early as 2015, he wrote in an apology letter, a school official reported him to the district for “inappropriate boundary violations with students.”
Current district superintendent Kimberly Hankins by email said she could not discuss details of the case “out of respect for the legal process.”
Hankins wrote the district had hired an outside expert to review policies and practices and recommend changes.
The district “has enacted new model policies, training, and practices to protect children against sexual abuse in schools,” Hankins wrote, adding that the new policy “is based on the best available research on how sexual grooming occurs.”
“Our primary focus is to help staff understand the importance of maintaining professional boundaries and to identify and stop potential grooming situations before they lead to abuse,” she wrote.