The Issaquah School District has agreed to pay $4.25 million to settle a lawsuit involving a former middle school teacher who was later convicted of child molestation.
The settlement comes more than 20 years after Richard Buckley taught at Issaquah Middle School, from 1992 to 2000. The lawsuit alleges that during that time, school administration covered for Buckley by playing down concerns and complaints filed by parents.
The lawsuit states that Buckley started grooming the female survivor in 1997, when she was 12 years old. In 2002, when the survivor was 17 and still in a relationship with Buckley, he molested her 10-year-old sister. Buckley was arrested in 2003 and convicted of child molestation. He served six years in prison before being released, according to a spokesperson for the law firm representing the survivor.
But the lawsuit, filed by Tacoma-based law firm Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, alleges that Issaquah School District administrators had or should have known about Buckley’s record of inappropriate action long before that. The lawsuit states that teachers and parents noticed Buckley’s inappropriate behaviors the same year he was hired, and made numerous complaints to administrators through 1995.
The district and administrators at Issaquah Middle School disregarded the concerns and complaints, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit states this was because Buckley curried favor and protection from school administrators, gaining a reputation as a talented teacher.
“(Issaquah Middle School) administrators knew that Buckley’s behavior was inappropriate, but they took little action, prioritizing the drama program over protecting young female students from his paraphilic interests,” the lawsuit reads.
Issaquah School District issued the following statement on the lawsuit settlement:
“This matter is being settled prior to trial. The case arose based off of circumstances that happened in the district decades ago. The decision to settle was made considering a number of factors, including providing compensation for a severe breach of trust by a teacher at the time. All costs of the settlement will be covered by the district’s insurer,” the statement reads. “While Issaquah School District denies any negligence by the district, we acknowledge settling is a better solution for everyone involved. Regardless of the lawsuit and the legal process, the district condemns, in the strongest sense, any abuse of a minor.”
The lawsuit alleges that the then-Issaquah Middle School principal protected Buckley from scrutiny for years. The lawsuit further alleges that in 1995, when Buckley’s behavior couldn’t be ignored, an administrator recommended that he pursue his master’s degree.
Buckley took a year off to obtain his master’s degree and resumed teaching at Issaquah Middle School in 1996. The lawsuit states that he would take young girls for private rides, invited them to his home after school and stayed out late alone with them.
It was around this time that Buckley began grooming the lawsuit’s plaintiff, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit states that over the coming years, Buckley repeatedly sexually assaulted the survivor before his arrest in 2003. During his time at the school, he also groomed at least four other female students, trying to recruit them as teaching assistants.
Former Issaquah School District Superintendent Janet Barry was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, along with the district. Barry retired as superintendent in 2007. The lawsuit alleges that Barry became aware of allegations against Buckley by at least the spring of 1998. She wrote a letter to the Office of Professional Practice reporting these concerns, but did nothing else to elevate the level of supervision on Buckley, the lawsuit states.
Buckley’s behavior deteriorated around this time, and he took a leave of absence during the 1999-2000 school year. The lawsuit alleges that the principal didn’t want him to return to the school as a teacher, but in February 2000, the principal wrote a “glowing letter of recommendation for Buckley as he was leaving (Issaquah Middle School).” This letter did not disclose any of the complaints or concerns surrounding the teacher, the lawsuit alleges.
Buckley resigned in June 2000, and used letters of recommendation from at least four school district staff to land a teaching position with the Orcas Island School District. He would go on to sexually assault another teenage female student over two years there, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit on behalf of Buckley’s survivor from Issaquah Middle School was filed last year. According to a representative of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, the $4.25 million settlement between the survivor and the district was reached on March 25, 2021.
Darrell Cochran, of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala, said it took too long for the Issaquah School District to acknowledge that it had failed his client and other students.
“It’s an extraordinary result in a case that should send a message to school districts all across Washington, and hopefully sends a lifeline out to survivors who are suffering silently,” Cochran said.