INDIANAPOLIS — Former students of North Central High School have filed a lawsuit claiming the Metropolitan School District of Washington Township ignored complaints of misconduct and sexual harassment committed by theater director Nathan Shewell over the course of years.
Investigative reports revealed Shewell had a history of sexual abuse allegations and the lawsuit against the MSD of Washington Township accuses the school board of failing to perform proper background checks before hiring Shewell along with faculty members of the school ignoring complaints of his misbehavior for years.
The school district responded with a statement saying Shewell was fired on May 26, 2020, after the district learned that Shewell had made false statements in his job application in an effort to conceal his resignation from a previous school due to allegations of inappropriate interactions with students.
“Washington Township Schools immediately alerted law enforcement, the Indiana Department of Child Services and the Indiana Department of Education regarding this matter. As a result, Shewell is no longer licensed to teach in Indiana. Additionally, the District began legal action against Shewell for his fraud and destructive actions,” the school district said in a statment.
But the lawsuit claims the school district had been informed of Shewell’s misconduct for years prior to May 2020 and sat on their hands.
The allegations in the complaint accuse Shewell of forcing students to participate in an acting exercise where he would take them into a closet and force them to reenact traumatic experiences while, in some cases, touching them inappropriately.
Shewell is accused of doing more, including calling female students by derogatory names and making insulting comments about their bodies. The lawsuit claims he also had his students act out sexual scenes, alone and with each other, and that he’d ask prying questions about their sex life and share details about his own.
“Nathan Shewell ripped from me the joy and love of performing and replaced it with the toxic and abusive environment he cultivated at North Central. I will never forget the way his words and actions made me feel,” said one of the plaintiffs, Natalie Schilling.
“It only adds insult to injury to know the faculty and administration knew about Shewell’s abuse and predatory behavior and did absolutely nothing to protect us. I pray that by holding the township accountable in court, they will never turn a blind eye to harassment or abuse in their schools ever again.”
Shewell taught North Central High School from 2013 until he was at last fired in May 2020.
“At Washington Township Schools, protecting students is our top priority,” said MSD of Washington Township in a statement. “We are deeply sorry to hear of the pain and harm that Shewell’s victims have described.”
An investigative report by WDRB uncovered that Shewell had taught at Silver Creek High School in Sellersburg prior to coming to North Central. Several students came forward and spoke to WDRB during their investigation alleging Shewell had groomed and sexually abused students during his tenure at the southern Indiana school.
Shewell resigned from Silver Creek in 2012. When one of his former students from Silver Creek learned years later he was still teaching and was at North Central, she claimed to have called the school in 2020 which prompted the school to place Shewell on leave and ultimately terminate his contract.
“Shewell was untruthful in his job application, engaged in inappropriate and criminal acts while at West Clark and continued inappropriate and unacceptable behavior while employed by the District,” said the MDS of Washington Township in a statement to WDRB.
But students of North Central High School said they’ve been telling the school district for years of Shewell’s abuse.
“The school district and its Board allowed Shewell and North Central staff members to prey on and ignore students – a complete failure of their responsibilities to these children,” said Michelle Simpson Tuegel, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. “A simple background check would have shown that Shewell was a serial predator and harasser, and that alone would have saved countless students from the horrific abuse and harassment they endured at the hands of someone they should have been able to trust.”
The lawsuit claims numerous school employees knew of Shewell’s misconduct through parental reports that stretch back to 2014. In 2018, the lawsuit documents said, Shewell was even suspended due to a rumor of a sexual relationship between himself and one of the plaintiffs. Shewell was allowed to return to North Central and continue teaching, however, after a “minimal investigation,” according to the lawsuit.
“Our educational system should provide safe spaces in which young people can flourish, but instead of finding that at North Central High School, these young women faced sexual harassment, discrimination, and abuse,” said Jeff Gibson, an attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Through this lawsuit, we intend to hold the responsible parties accountable for their complete disregard for student safety and equality.”
In their statement, the MSD of Washington Township said that before the lawsuit was announced the district had already made changes to its hiring process to require a more thorough review of candidates.
“To further improve its practices, as the U.S. Department of Education has recently updated Title IX harassment reporting guidance, Washington Township Schools engaged with a partnership with the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking in the District’s effort to maintain its commitment to best practices,” the district said.
Nathan Shewell has not been criminally charged in relation to any of the allegations against him. The statute of limitations has passed for several of his allegations.
The school district’s statement can be read below:
“At Washington Township Schools, protecting students is our top priority. We are deeply sorry to hear of the pain and harm that Shewell’s victims have described.
On May 26, 2020, the District fired Shewell after learning that he made false statements in his job application in an effort to conceal his resignation from a previous employer due to allegations of inappropriate interactions with students at that school corporation.
Washington Township Schools immediately alerted law enforcement, the Indiana Department of Child Services and the Indiana Department of Education regarding this matter. As a result, Shewell is no longer licensed to teach in Indiana. Additionally, the District began legal action against Shewell for his fraud and destructive actions.
Following Shewell’s termination, the District received several new allegations. Some concerns came from North Central High School students, including some listed in the lawsuit, but primarily students from his prior school employer. The District, through its outside counsel, thoroughly investigated these claims at the time and reviewed District policies and practices.
Additionally, before the students in the complaint came forward regarding Shewell, the District made important changes to its hiring practices to require a more thorough review of candidates through its continuing efforts to improve its practices.
To further improve its practices, as the U.S. Department of Education has recently updated Title IX harassment reporting guidance, Washington Township Schools engaged with a partnership with the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking in the District’s effort to maintain its commitment to best practices.
Staff misconduct will not be tolerated in Washington Township Schools. The District will continue to strongly enforce its long-standing Anti-Harassment policy and provide multiple channels for students and parents to safely and anonymously report any harassment claims, located on the WT website main page. “MSD of Washington Township
The school also sent a letter to parents that said, “We will continue to aggressively address any issues regarding the safety, security, and well-being of our students.”