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Birch Suit Against Ohio County Schools Settled

WHEELING — Ohio County Schools has settled a lawsuit brought by a man who alleges he was mentally and sexually abused by a teacher while a student at Wheeling Park High School and Bridge Street Middle School more than 15 years ago.

The relationship between Christopher Birch and the teacher, Elizabeth Harbert, began in 2004 when Birch was 13 and an eighth grade student at Bridge Street. The couple went on to have four children together — the first of which was born when Birch was a junior at WPHS.

“Chris Birch’s case against the Ohio County Board of Education has recently resolved with an agreement regarding all remaining matters between the parties,” his attorney, Teresa Toriseva said Thursday. “The Board denies and all liability in this matter.

“Mr. Birch is grateful and pleased the matter has resolved and is thankful for all the public support he received while the case was proceeding. Mr. Birch is anxious to move forward and will have no further comment on these matters.”

Details of the agreement are being kept confidential, according to Toriseva’s office.

Officials with Ohio County Schools did not immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.

The civil suit filed by Birch in Ohio County Circuit Court on April 4 named as the original defendants Harbert; the Ohio County Board of Education; and former WPHS principal Christine Carder, a current member of the board of education.

Other than Carder, no other current board of education member was affiliated with the school district when Birch was a student.

In early June, First Judicial Circuit Judge Jason Cuomo dismissed the civil counts against Harbert and Carder, and most counts in the lawsuit against the Ohio County Board of Education. Cuomo explained he no choice but to dismiss key elements of the lawsuit because the two-year statute of limitation had expired.

Still remaining in the suit had been one count accusing the board of education of negligent retention, hiring and supervision with regard to Harbert. That is the count in the case most recently settled.

Investigators with the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department, meanwhile, filed a criminal complaint against Harbert on on April 24, charging her with sexual abuse by a parent, custodian, or guardian in a position of trust.

Harbert pled guilty on Aug. 13 to third degree sexual assault, and was sentenced to one to five years in state prison.

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