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School District reaches $1.49M settlement with sexual abuse victim

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BIG SKY – The Big Sky School District has reached a settlement with a former student following a lawsuit filed last year. The suit alleged that school officials were aware of ongoing sexual, physical and emotional abuse inflicted by then-high school girls’ basketball coach Cyle Kokot, who is currently serving a 25-year sentence with 10 years suspended after pleading guilty to felony sexual assault in 2015.

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, the settlement included $1.49 million awarded to Bella Butler, along with numerous requirements for indefinite staff training procedures to ensure negligence and misreporting are never again the cause of a student’s suffering.

“As part of the settlement and aligned with our commitment to the health, safety and well-being of our students, the District will be taking affirmative measures to enhance our internal processes and procedures,” read a statement released by BSSD Superintendent Dustin Shipman.

The settlement concludes the nearly yearlong process, beginning in March of 2019, when an unnamed plaintiff, now identified as Butler, filed a lawsuit in district court against BSSD, claiming the school district was aware that Kokot was engaging inappropriately with multiple players, including the plaintiff.

According to a separate statement released by Butler, also a former reporter for this newspaper, she felt ready to vacate the protective order that had her previously named “Jane Doe.”

“I’ve been greatly inspired and impacted by the bravery of women on a national level removing their own veils of anonymity in order to effectively share their own stories of abuse, which have empowered me to create the same opportunity for others, like myself, hurting and afraid, to enjoy a platform to share their important stories. Confronting my own pain and past trauma has also given me a lot more confidence in speaking openly.”

According to the BSSD statement, the district’s insurance carrier was responsible for the entire sum following the district’s payment of a $1,000 deductible.

The Outlaw Partners is a creative marketing, media and events company based in Big Sky, Montana.

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