The parents of a Greenville student filed a lawsuit against Greenville Independent School District in a Dallas federal court on Thursday alleging that the district "failed to protect their child from repeated sexual abuse by another student" even after school officials knew of the abuse and promised to protect the child.
The 13-page complaint was filed in U.S. District Court, in the Dallas division of Northern District of Texas. Court records show that a summons was issued that same day to notify the district of the lawsuit, but as of Monday afternoon, court records did not confirm that the summons had yet been delivered.
In an email reply to the Herald-Banner's request for comment Monday afternoon, GISD Superintendent Demetrus Liggins said the district had not been served and declined to comment.
"It would be premature to comment on a lawsuit of which we have not received a copy," Liggins wrote. "The District has not been served with any paperwork indicating there was a lawsuit filed."
The complaint filed on behalf of the two parents and their minor child – none of whom are being named in this publication to protect the student's privacy – details two instances of sexual abuse of the child, allegedly perpetrated by another minor student at KGJ STEM Academy. While the parents' names appear on the court documents, the child is referred to as John Doe throughout. Greenville's KGJ STEM Academy houses grades kindergarten through fifth grade.
In the first incident alleged to have occurred on Nov. 6, 2018, a GISD employee reported that he walked into the school restroom and saw another student sexually abusing John Doe.
The lawsuit alleges that the employee who witnessed the abuse "made no report to authorities" as required by law. When the parents spoke to then-Principal Stacey Kluttz the following day, she told them "she had heard nothing concerning the sexual abuse" of the previous day, the complaint states.
In the complaint, the parents describe discussing the abuse with GISD Assistant Superintendent Sharon Boothe, who "promised the school district would file a Child Protective Services report immediately" and "promised that GISD would craft and implement a customized safety plan for John," the lawsuit states.
"Boothe promised John's parents that: the other student would not be unsupervised in the bathroom; that GISD would protect John ensuring that he would never be alone with the other student; all appropriate staff at the school and GISD would be made aware of the abuse; and that she and the GISD counselor would check in on John periodically throughout the school day to see if he was in distress," the complaint states.
None of those things were done as promised, the parents allege in the suit.
"GISD did not file a timely report with Child Protective Services as promised," the complaint states. "Nor did the school district create or implement a safety plan as promised. GISD did not call law enforcement. GISD did not change its policies or procedures."
Instead, the lawsuit alleges, "rather than take appropriate action, GISD engaged in a cover-up and repeatedly attempted to brush these shocking and abusive events under the proverbial rug."
Almost immediately after the incident on Nov. 6, the lawsuit states, the child began to exhibit symptoms of sexual abuse. "He began chewing through his shirts. He became deathly afraid to go to the bathroom," the lawsuit states.
The complaint states that at this point, the parents confirmed that "KGJ (campus) employees did not file a timely report of the abuse; that GISD took no action to investigate, protect, or implement any safety protocols to protect John or any of the students at GISD; that GISD did not follow up with John's parents; and that GISD had contacted no law enforcement officials."
Then, on March 12, 2019, according to the lawsuit, "the very same student once again sexually assaulted John while he was in GISD's care. GISD personnel found John in the bathroom with his pants down. Video evidence shows that John's abuser left the bathroom shortly before GISD's teacher came into the bathroom," the complaint states.
"Rather than help John, GISD's teacher chastised John which further exacerbated the abuse John had suffered," the complaint states.
On March 13, 2019, the complaint states, the parents "confronted Principal Kluttz again," asking for the written safety plan, the CPS report, and any documentation related to John's abuse occurring in November 2018.
"There was none," the complaint states. "Instead, Kluttz admitted that the school district did not make a timely report to Child Protective Services and that the district failed to file a report with any law enforcement agency. Principal Kluttz apologized by saying 'I'm sorry, I failed you," the complaint alleges.
Next, the lawsuit states, the parents went to GISD police department to report the incident "because GISD would not." They spoke with GISD Police Chief Ramon Rodriguez and Officer Nathan Baker, and according to the lawsuit, the officers told the parents that "video evidence confirms that John's abuser left the bathroom after abusing John."
"The GISD Police Department also confirmed that they 'were never informed' by any of the GISD mandatory reporters" and the "GISD police were angry," the complaint states. The GISD police officers told the parents "that if they knew of the sexual abuse, they could have retrained, taught, investigated and prevented the second sexual abuse" incident, the complaint states.
"Obviously, John suffered sexual abuse on March 12, 2019, which the GISD police could have prevented by implementing basic protective measures. But they could not protect John because the school district never reported the November 6, 2018, sexual abuse incident," the complaint states.
The lawsuit notes that the parents spoke again with Boothe, the assistant superintendent, who told them that she "believed" the district personnel filed timely reports and implemented a safety plan, the complaint states. "John's parents also spoke with Chip Gregory, Chief of Schools for GISD. Mr. Gregory tried to assure plaintiffs that he was 'working on it. The Plan is not on paper. Just trust me,'" the complaint states.
On March 15, 2019, the lawsuit states, the victim's mother again spoke with Principal Kluttz, "who refused to remove John's abuser from the same GISD campus where John attends. Kluttz refused to share any reports, plans, or protection provisions in place for John. Instead, Kluttz had no viable safety plan," the complaint states.
"Rather, Kluttz and GISD's plan included singling out John and forcing him to use a separate restroom from the other children. GISD's tone deafness to the sexual abuse suffered by John further alienated him from his classroom, classmates, others at GISD, and ostracized him and his parents," the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit says that the district "eventually drafted a flimsy report from the November 6, 2018, sexual abuse incident" that was filed with Child Protective Services, but the report did not contain basic information such as the name of the victim or the abuser. "Instead, GISD falsely claimed the names of the students were 'unknown,' thereby preventing Child Protective Services from properly investigating or otherwise reacting to the report," the complaint states.
The lawsuit also alleges that the district "instructed the GISD chief of police to conduct no investigation, as the GISD's lawyers would conduct an investigation," the complaint states. As of June 27, the lawsuit states, the district police department has never opened an investigation and therefore violated the plaintiffs' constitutional and due process rights.
As the parents began pushing for answers and proof that the school was protecting their child after the second abuse incident, "GISD pushed back," the complaint states. Around the same time they went to visit the campus police after the second incident, the parents were banished from the parent-school communication network, the lawsuit states.
The network, called Skyward, gives parents online access to their child's classroom and attendance records and facilitates open communication between the school and families. "Adding insult to injury, GISD abruptly shut down plaintiffs' access to their own child's school records by blocking plaintiffs' access to Skyward" and provided no explanation for why it did so, the lawsuit alleges.
In the complaint's concluding section, the plaintiffs say they have reason to believe that similar complaints have been lodged with district officials by other parents, and "GISD told those parents to leave" the district. The complaint alleges that the district's "lack of oversight, training, and proper policies has resulted in an environment friendly to the sexual abuse of children at GISD."
"Due to a combination of arrogance, callousness, lack of training and supervision, GISD personnel failed to appreciate the high level of probability that John's abuser would repeat the sexual abuse," the complaint concludes. "Properly instructed, honest, and attentive GISD personnel could have prevented this tragedy. After the second sexual abuse, GISD personnel were so poorly trained and supervised, they chastised John when they found him in the bathroom with his trousers down. This proves that personnel were completely unaware of what had happened to John months earlier.
"The abuse suffered by John was severe and pervasive and GISD had actual knowledge of the danger yet did nothing to prevent further abuse from occurring," the lawsuit says. "GISD's actions have led directly to John facing severe emotional and mental trauma. As a result, plaintiffs and John suffered emotional and physical injuries and suffered economic and non-economic damages. Plaintiffs seek those damages in this case."
The lawsuit does not seek any specific amount of damages sought, as many lawsuits do. Instead, the complaint shares a number of suggested procedures and policies that the plaintiffs urge GISD to consider enacting.
"By this lawsuit, plaintiffs seek to reverse GISD’s culture of indifference," the complaint states. "Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief requiring that GISD properly investigate allegations of sexual abuse, rather than proffer half-baked investigations or, worse yet, deliberate indifference to allegations that one student repeatedly sexually assaulted another student. Through injunctive relief, plaintiffs seek a remedy that will protect their child and other children from unchecked predatory behavior," the complaint states.
The plaintiffs' suggested procedures spelled out in the lawsuit include:
— Complaints against GISD will either be (A) referred over to the Hunt County District Attorney for handling an investigation for any GISD employee who failed to report either abuse/neglect or child endangerment; or (B) handed over to a law enforcement agency other than the GISD police department for investigation into any criminal wrongdoing;
— Change GISD policy to fast-track the appeal of cases involving sexual abuse, sexual violence, and sexual assault against a student or staff;
— Additions to existing policy that GISD did not follow: Add "sexual abuse" to the school Safety Transfer Policy;
— Recognition that every accusation of sexual abuse by a student be taken seriously;
— Immediately contacting both parents regarding the accusation and providing those parents with a detailed accounting of the accusations;
— Opening an investigation into the accusations, appointing a school district official to investigate the accusations. The official should not be an employee of the staff of the campus where the investigation is to take place;
— Scheduling an in-person meeting with the student's parents and the district official who will be investigating the accusations;
— Detailing the investigation procedures, how that investigation will take place, and how the parents will be notified as to the results of the investigation during this meeting;
— Parents should have the option of immediately removing their child from the classroom until the investigation concludes, without any penalty to the child. Reasonable accommodation should be made to minimize the impact to the student; and
— If the accusations are found to be true, then the district should be required to immediately notify applicable law enforcement, immediately remove the abuser from the campus where the victim attends, notify all parents of students who were potentially also victimized, and documenting the accusations.
The plaintiffs also note in the lawsuit that they took their specific complaints to district officials before filing the lawsuit, and "GISD maintains that it did nothing wrong ... and that its handling of John's sexual abuse is perfectly acceptable."