Blake Sinrod pleaded guilty to child abuse charges in 2005. Adjudication was withheld after he met the terms of his probation.
When a teacher molested four little girls in 2005, the Palm Beach County School District placed the blame squarely - on the third-graders themselves.

The children were "old enough to appreciate the consequences of their actions" when they did what their teacher told them to, the district said in court documents.

In response to a lawsuit from the girls' families, the district said the children "conducted themselves in a careless and negligent manner" and administrators should not be held responsible.

Now, a dozen years after the incident, the district is poised to pay $3.6 million to settle the lawsuit.

The four girls are adults now, but they were third-graders in 2005 when they first accused their teacher, Blake Sinrod, of fondling them in the classroom at Coral Sunset Elementary, west of Boca Raton. Sinrod, who is now 46, pleaded guilty in May 2006 to child abuse charges involving two of the students.

The settlement, one of the school district's largest, marks a reversal from the district's claim earlier this year that it wasn't liable for Sinrod's actions.

School police investigated Sinrod in 2005, when one of the girls told her mother that the teacher had fondled her during a reading group. The girl said he touched her under her clothing and instructed her to touch his private area over his clothing, according to a police report.

The three other girls painted similar pictures to police. They described Sinrold inappropriately touching them during a reading group or classroom movie. Some of the girls said they gave him neck rubs, and some said Sinrod instructed them to place their hand on his genital area outside his clothes, according to a police report.

The parents of the four children filed a civil suit in 2006. Their lawyer at the time, Charles Bechert, said then that the parents believed Sinrod targeted the children because they were immigrants whose parents may not have known how to report crimes to authorities.

Sinrod was fired in 2006 and his teaching license was revoked in 2008.

The case has gone through several amendments and appeals since then. The School Board is expected to approve the $3.6 million settlement on Oct. 18. The amount was negotiated during mediation, said Marc Wites, their current lawyer.

Sinrod and district officials could not be reached for comment.

"I would say the girls and their families are relieved that this case is over," Wites said. "Although they will be unhappy this case is in the news again, they hope the publication of the story will put parents and teachers and students on alert. One would think a school would be place where children could be safe but unforgettably that's not always the case."

School police determined there was enough evidence to charge Sinrod in all four cases, although the State Attorney's Office disagreed and pursued only allegations involving two of the girls. Sinrod pleaded guilty to the child abuse charges but adjudication was withheld after he met conditions of his probation, according to court records.

As part of its defense against the lawsuit, the district argued that Sinrod's actions were "unknown and beyond the foresight of reasonably prudent persons."

However, the parents' lawsuit says another parent had complained to a Coral Sunset assistant principal in 2003 about a similar incident involving a second-grade girl.

The assistant principal told those parents that Sinrod was a "highly recommended teacher" and that their daughter must be lying, the parents alleged in court filings.

The parents of that child moved away from Florida and didn't pursue criminal charges or a lawsuit until 2010. Their case was dismissed after courts ruled the statute of limitations had passed.

Lawyers for the four girls in the 2005 case argued that the school district failed to investigate or take proper action against Sinrod when the 2003 allegations surfaced.