PERRY, Okla. - An Oklahoma school district who is still reeling from a sexual abuse scandal has reached a settlement in a federal lawsuit.
In 2017, a federal lawsuit sought unspecified damages from the Perry Public School District and the school board for allegedly failing to protect elementary students from 87-year-old Arnold Cowen.
In January of 2017, Cowen was arrested after more than 10 girls at Perry Upper Elementary School came forward saying the teacher's aide had touched them inappropriately during class.
Students as young as 10-years-old complained Cowen fondled them and touched their breasts, according to arrest affidavits, sometimes during “lengthy hugs and inappropriate touches.”
Cowen was ultimately charged with 21 criminal counts - 20 counts of lewd or indecent acts to children under 16 and one count of aggravated possession of child pornography.
Cowen pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and the rest of his sentence was suspended.
"The girls had been silenced by faculty and teachers," said Cameron Spradling, an attorney for the victims and their families. "The girls were called drama queens. they were liars. That they were fabricating these stories, making life miserable for this nice old man."
According to court documents obtained by News 4, the Perry Public School District agreed to pay the victims' families $3.5 million in a settlement of the federal suit.
"The foregoing amount shall be comprised of $683,427.34 from the School District's liability insurance carrier and a judgement against the School District in the amount of $,816,572.66 to be paid out of the School District's sinking fund over a period of three (3) years as provided by Oklahoma law," court documents state.
News 4's messages to the school district and its attorneys were not returned. Spradling said the money will be placed in annuities for the victims, to be used for their future needs. While no amount of money can repair the victims' and their families' pain, Spradling said, at some point, there has to be a wake up call for not just districts, but the entire state.
"The reality has to set in to us, in Oklahoma, we have a problem," said Spradling. "If you -- as a human being -- see something that is odd to you, pick up the phone. Call DHS, law enforcement. You know why? That's the law."
The school's former principal and a former teacher are scheduled for a jury trial in the coming months on charges they failed to report the children's abuse allegations to law enforcement.