Lawsuit: Olympia School District hid sexual abuse from parents

Gary Shafer, the former Olympia School District bus driver convicted of molesting girls.
Gary Shafer, the former Olympia School District bus driver convicted of molesting girls. The Olympian

A new lawsuit has been filed against the Olympia School District in the case involving a school bus driver who molested students over a six-year period.

Filed April 8, the lawsuit alleges that the school district failed to notify at least two families whose children were victims of Gary Shafer.

In 2011, Shafer was convicted of assaulting three girls, and was sentenced to 14 1/2 years in prison. He admitted to molesting as many as 30 kindergarten-age children during the previous six years.

The lawsuit contends that top district officials knew the names of other victims based on a psychosexual evaluation of Shafer, but withheld the information from parents as well as police.

Tacoma-based attorney Darrell Cochran, who has represented other victims in the Shafer case, said the district concealed the information to protect itself from lawsuits. He said this lawsuit represents the ninth and 10th claims in the case.

Cochran said one mother had no idea that her daughter was involved until his legal team contacted her in late 2015.

“You not only have the district with its head in the sand, ignoring six years of red flags,” he said. “You also have district administrators who knew specific girls were sexually abused and concealed that information from parents after learning about it.”

The school district released a statement saying the latest allegations will be addressed through the court system. The district also said employees are trained in mandatory safety and reporting requirements.

“When we received any new information that a student could have been victimized, we made every reasonable effort to identify the family, cooperate with law enforcement, and reach out to contact the student’s family,” according to the statement.

Shafer was 26 in 2005 when the district hired him as a bus driver. For the next six years, Shafer groomed and molested children, either as a bus driver or by going on hundreds of “ride-alongs” on other routes. As a driver, he would pull the bus over or arrive at stops early so he could have more time with the girls. Reports show that he would tickle girls and joke with them during ride-alongs.

Other employees noticed Shafer’s behavior. At one point, a fellow bus driver reportedly saw Shafer looking at pornography on a computer at the bus barn. According to documents, Shafer later admitted to photographing victims.

Families of previous victims have settled lawsuits with the Olympia School District, with one award as high as $1.4 million.

Individual district employees named in the most recent lawsuit are Jennifer Priddy, assistant superintendent for fiscal and operations at transportation; Fred Stanley, supervisor of transportation; Barbara Greer, former transportation training coordinator; Bill Lahmann, retired superintendent; and Superintendent Dick Cvitanich.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869, @andyhobbs