Marysville to pay $3.5M to former students for alleged sex abuse

The district settled the lawsuit over incidents from the 1980s. Kurt Hollstein remained employed until June 2021.


MARYSVILLE — The Marysville School District is set to pay out $3.5 million and offer a written apology to two former students who say they were sexually abused by a longtime teacher.

Kurt Hollstein was an art teacher who also served as the cheerleading adviser in the mid-1980s.

Around 1985, Hollstein began driving a student home from school, the woman said in a deposition on Sept. 16 last year. From then, she said, Hollstein developed a “closeness” with her “almost like a boyfriend.”

Her first memory of Hollstein inappropriately touching her was in a film darkroom at the junior high school in the spring of her eighth-grade year, she said. She was about 14 years old.

Hollstein would pull her from class and sexually abuse her in the darkroom, she said during the September deposition. The abuse continued through her ninth grade year, two to three times a week, she said.

Hollstein was allowed to take students one-on-one into the film processing room, also known as the “darkroom.” Another former teacher said he did not remember a policy that would have prohibited Hollstein from taking a student into the darkroom alone, according to a Sept. 21 deposition.

The abuse continued as the student moved on to Marysville Pilchuck High school, she said.

At 15, she missed her period and approached Hollstein with concerns about being pregnant. At the time, she said, “I was emotionally becoming just really messed up and damaged. I was just sad.”

The last sexual contact, she said, was in the spring of her tenth-grade year. She described it as “aggressive.”

After the alleged abuse ended, it was like the student “disappeared,” a former classmate and current district employee said during a Nov. 15 deposition.

The student “was involved in everything in middle school and junior high,” the classmate said. “And it just seemed in high school she just fizzled away in the strangest way. But she was very withdrawn. I didn’t see her at all the events … she just wasn’t the same girl.”

Her grade point average dropped from 3.5 in eighth grade to 0.33 in her second semester of tenth grade.

One woman filed a lawsuit in March 2021 claiming she was “discriminated against because of her sex” and as a result was harmed physically and emotionally after being coerced into performing sexual acts. One other victim later came forward.

Both victims were members of the cheer team, said their attorney, Ashton K. Dennis. They both accused Hollstein of grooming them.

Hollstein declined to speak about the allegations, Dennis said.

In early 2021, Hollstein was still serving as the athletic director at Marysville Getchell High School. He was employed by the district until June 30 .

“During the time that the student was attending school in the 1980s, and up to the commencement of a legal claim, the alleged staff misconduct was not disclosed to any school or District administrator,” district spokesperson Jodi Runyon wrote in an email to The Daily Herald.

In January, Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Paul Thompson ruled the Marysville School District violated the state’s Law Against Discrimination. Washington school districts may have liability for acts by their employees on school grounds, including intentional sexual misconduct, according to the state law.

“Due to very recent changes in the law in Washington State, a school district can be held strictly liable for sexual abuse of a student by any staff member at school … regardless of whether the District knew of any misconduct,” Runyon wrote. “… the District believes any such abusive conduct by staff towards any student is a breach of trust that is inexcusable.”

The statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse in Washington allows victims to seek compensation when they discover the abuse caused injury.

“These victims went through years of abuse, which continues to impact them to this very day,” Dennis said.

A civil trial had been set to begin Monday, but the case was settled this month.

The school district’s insurers are covering the costs of the settlements and defense.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

If you are struggling, help is available:

CARE Crisis Line: (425) 258-4357 or 1-800-584-3578 (North Puget Sound); Online Crisis Chat: (24/7).

Crisis Prevention & Intervention Team: (Snohomish County) (425) 349-7447.

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673; Online chat hotline.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.

Northwest Network of Bi, Trans, Lesbian, and Gay Survivors of Abuse: (206) 568-7777 (Non-Emergency); TTY Message: (206) 517-9670.

Pathways for Women: (425) 774-9843.

Protection Order Assistance Program: (425) 388-3638.

Providence Sexual Assault Center: (425) 252-4800.

WA Warm Line, a peer support group for people living with emotional and mental health challenges: 877-500-9276 or 866-427-4747.

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