A woman says the former principal of her high school began sexually abusing her when she was a 14-year-old student—but school officials failed to adequately investigate evidence of his misconduct, and the abuse to continued.
Mark Fisher, a former principal at the Academy of Arts & Academics, “befriended, groomed, and sexually abused” the student from 2006 and 2010, according to a $5 million federal lawsuit she filed against the Springfield School District, former superintendent Nancy Golden, and former human resources director Roger Jordan on Monday.
The woman, who is referred to as Jane Doe in the lawsuit, says she was 14 years old when Fisher, some thirty years older than her, initiated an “inappropriate relationship” that became sexual. She’s suing the school district for a loss of bodily integrity and for negligence.
Officials at the Academy of Arts & Academics, known locally as A3, knew about Fisher’s behavior as early as 2007 and never told the girl’s parents nor interviewed her, the Register-Guard reported in March.
“Her parents are irate. If they had known [then] or any of the years about any of this, they would’ve put an end to it,” Barbara Long, the woman’s attorney, told The Daily Beast.
Fisher, who killed himself in February after the sexual-abuse allegations came to light, threatened the student, telling her that no one would believe her story if she spoke out, Long said. As a result, the girl lived in fear, she said.
“He said, ‘No one will believe that you, or any of your accolades, are legitimate.’ He would tell her he’s going to kill himself,” Long said.
“She wanted to protect the school she loved, A3. She even kept it a secret from her husband,” the attorney added.
Doe kept the alleged abuse hidden for years, even after she returned to work at the school in the fall of 2014. She moved to Georgia in 2016.
The allegations finally came to light in late January after a teacher overheard a student repeating a rumor that Fisher “had been having sex with students,” according to the Register-Guard.
The teacher reported the accusation to her superiors and Springfield School District administrators. Springfield police launched an investigation into the matter, contacting Doe, who came forward about the abuse she suffered, according to the lawsuit.
“Mike Fisher took advantage of me from the time I was 14 years old,” she told police, according to the Register-Guard.
Fisher was placed on leave on Jan. 31. He committed suicide the next day.
Doe says the school had ample cause to believe that Fisher was abusing her when she was a student. In 2007, one of her friends saw her place her hand on Fisher’s thigh and spotted them holding hands. That friend told her mom what she’d seen, the Register-Guard reported.
But when the parent confronted Fisher, he brushed off her concerns, claiming he was “counseling” Doe, who came from a “dysfunctional family.” As the mother left his office, she overheard the principal’s secretary say his relationship with Doe was going “to ruin this program.”
That parent also told Walterville Elementary School teacher Sherrie Warthen about the suspicious behavior. Warthen filed a complaint with the school district, and told her husband, a detective, about the allegation. According to the Register-Guard investigation, Fisher told Jordan, the school’s former human resources director, that he “never” touched the girl inappropriately, calling her “a bit clingy.”
According to the lawsuit, Fisher was simply given a warning letter. The letter stated that an investigation found “no evidence that child abuse, in any form, took place.”
“Fisher was given a ‘Letter of Instruction/Directive’ that he follow Springfield School District ’s transportation policy and stay in public areas with students,” the lawsuit states. “Plaintiff’s parents were never notified about the Letter to Fisher or about the 2007 complaint, Plaintiff was never interviewed, and no further steps were taken to enforce the Letter.”
The abuse continued, on and off school grounds, until Doe graduated in 2010, the lawsuit states.
“Defendant created a dangerous condition by failing to adequately investigate the allegations that Fisher had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with Plaintiff, by failing to report suspected child abuse, and by retaining Fisher as the Principal and a teacher at A3 after learning of credible allegations against him,” the lawsuit states.
In March 2018, after the school launched an inquiry into Fisher’s behavior, Jordan accused Superintendent Golden, who retired in 2012, of telling him to drop the investigation—an allegation she denies.
“I never directed, asked, or in any way suggested, that Mr. Jordan refrain from any investigation related to Michael Fisher,” Golden told the Register-Guard. “Any statement or suggestion that I did so is entirely false.”
Rumors about Fisher’s behavior circulated in the halls of A3 for years. “You guys should be more aware of the principal having an intimate relationship with a former student. Like this is not a joke and it’s disgusting,” one student wrote in an anonymous survey given out in 2015. The board decided to remove the notes about Fisher before sharing the responses with staff and parents.
“This was not a well kept secret,” Doe’s attorney said.
The school’s charter status was revoked in March, allowing for more oversight of the administration. Springfield Schools Superintendent Sue Rieke-Smith stepped down from her post in April, leaving for another school district.
“Mike doesn't represent us. He doesn't represent the school. He doesn't represent the beliefs of anyone at A3. He is not us,” student Kyla Ramsey told ABC 9.
Springfield School District spokesperson Jen McCulley told the Register-Guard it “will be reviewing with our legal counsel regarding next steps.”