The judgment, filed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Todd Campbell, said the school system showed a “deliberate indifference” to what was happening at East Robertson Elementary School and awarded unspecified monetary damages to the plaintiffs in the case.
The civil suit against the school system was filed by the parents of two unrelated former East Robertson students in February of 2013. The parents of a third student joined the suit after the initial filing. All three children have since been removed from the school and were undergoing psychological counseling when the case went before Campbell for a bench trial in September.
Campbell noted that the school district “demonstrated a serious lack of sensitivity” to the alleged sexual harassment and inappropriate touching.
“Known information was not shared with parents or other school employees, despite the need to prevent and deal properly with such abuse,” he wrote. “Children who were victims of such abuse were shamed, not believed, made to apologize, told to drop it, or required to remain with the perpetrator at all times, all in front of the other children.”
The judge also noted that parents who were genuinely concerned about their children were treated with indifference by school officials and they were “lied to about what was really happening.”
During the trial, testimony revealed that repeated incidents of alleged abuse took place at the school over a period of two years and teachers and administrators failed to take certain allegations seriously – in some cases going as far as chiding student victims.
A safety plan aimed at protecting students from a sexually-aggressive classmate was not followed, resulting in an alleged attack in a classroom full of students during school hours, according to testimony.
Despite those claims, officials with Robertson County Schools maintained that the district offered a safe environment for children. Many school officials said at trial that they believed it was up to the teachers to investigate allegations of sexual abuse. In one such case, a teacher and the school’s vice principal had investigated an allegation and determined that nothing had happened.
Campbell, in his order, said he believed the teachers, administrators and former Director of Schools Dan Whitlow minimized the actions of the two students responsible for the peer-on-peer sexual abuse at the school. He also criticized the district’s safety plan for the main student offender.
Two alleged offenders were identified in court, both reportedly linked by one alleged incident involving inappropriate touching during a football practice.
The main offender, according to testimony, was a child whose history with the Department of Children’s Services dates back to 2010, when he was 4-years-old. His pre-school teacher at Krisle Elementary told DCS officials that he had inappropriately touched female classmates during naptime, testimony revealed.
“Although isolating [the student offender] had failed to work prior to the safety plan and monitoring [the student offender] was obviously failing to work in this instance, Defendant did not change the Safety Plan or reconsider further interventions,” Campbell wrote in his judgment.
All records relating to the civil case were sealed by Campbell to protect the identities of the children involved.
The judge’s order states that the amount of damages will be outlined in a brief due to the court by Dec. 15. The school system will have until Dec. 29 to respond, the order said.
The damages will include real costs, such as therapy visits and private school tuition, as well as monetary damages for emotional distress, the judge ruled.