Fairfax schools defend handling of case against falsely accused teacher Sean Lanigan


Fairfax County school district defended its handling of Sean Lanigan, a teacher falsely accused of molesting a 12-year-old girl, saying that it’s standard practice to transfer a teacher out of his school in “any case involving a serious disciplinary proceeding.” (Jahi Chikwendiu/WASHINGTON POST)

The Fairfax County school district said Monday evening that it was standard practice to transfer a teacher out of his school in “any case involving a serious disciplinary proceeding,” and that teacher Sean Lanigan could “seek reimbursement of his legal fees from his teachers association.”

The statement was issued in response to a story in Sunday’s Washington Post outlining the ordeal Lanigan endured after being falsely accused last year of molesting a 12-year-old girl. Though a jury found him not guilty of all charges, the school district continued to pursue disciplinary actions against him, transferred him to another school and is refusing to pay his $125,000 legal bill a year after his trial ended.

The statement noted that “Mr. Lanigan has the opportunity to seek reimbursement of his legal fees from his teachers association.” Asked to clarify, Fairfax schools spokesman Paul Regnier said the teachers association insures members for up to $35,000, though he acknowledged that did not equal the $125,000 that Lanigan paid his various lawyers.

Although Regnier said Lanigan could seek to recoup legal fees from the teachers group, he declined to comment further on the reimbursement issue, saying Lanigan didn’t sign a release authorizing him to talk about the specifics of the case.

Lanigan was arrested in January 2010 and charged with felony abduction and aggravated sexual battery after a sixth-grade student at Centre Ridge Elementary School accused him of picking her up, fondling her breasts and buttocks and carrying her to an equipment room. At trial, a jury acquitted Lanigan in 47 minutes. A Fairfax Child Protective Services investigation also cleared Lanigan of any wrongdoing.

He was transferred out of Centre Ridge anyway, forcing his wife to quit her job in order to provide child care. After working this year at South Lakes High School, he is being transferred again. The school board in March offered to pay $60,000 in legal fees.

The statement by the school district said that the schools were obligated to report the allegations against Lanigan and did so. The case was then in the hands of police and prosecutors, the school district said.

“Our parents and community expect that school employees will be disciplined in instances of inappropriate behavior,” the statement said, “regardless of whether the employee is found guilty of specific charges in a court of law.” The statement added, “In any case involving a serious disciplinary proceeding, it is standard school system practice to place the teacher in a different school than the one where the dispute occurred; the purpose of this is to give the teacher and the originating school a fresh start.”

Lanigan declined to comment Monday on the statement, which is posted in full on The State of NoVa blog.

Tom Jackman is a native of Northern Virginia and has been covering the region for The Post since 1998.

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