The parents of a 9-year-old girl are suing Sumner County Schools in federal court, claiming the district failed to protect the child from a classmate that was sexually abusing her for months at a local elementary school.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 30 and using monikers such as Jane Doe and Sally Smith to protect student privacy, does not specify an amount for damages, but it does ask for relief in the form of payment and an injunction against Sumner County Schools, including requests for appropriate policies, training, supervision and observance of Title 9 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Sumner County Schools responded to the filing late Wednesday through its attorney Todd Presnell.
“The Sumner County Board of Education is aware, and disappointed, that this family filed a lawsuit,” Presnell wrote in a statement. “The Board categorically denies this family’s allegations. Because of the nature of the allegations and out of respect for the privacy of the involved families and students, the Board will not provide specific comments.
According to the suit, the child’s parents, also given Doe monikers to protect privacy, reported child abuse to Burrus Elementary School’s principal and vice principal as well as a teacher and school counselor in January of 2019, explaining that a female classmate was sexually assaulting their daughter in the school restroom, on the school playground and outside of school.
The parents asked school officials to keep their daughter away from the other child, and over the next three months, they claim the school did nothing to protect the girl.
The other child confronted Jane Doe throughout the school, “even chastising her about her parents’ report of the abuse, telling her, ‘You will have no friends. No one will believe you. I told you not to tell,’” states the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville.
Jane Doe had nightmares, slept in her parents’ room and frequently had flashbacks of the abuse, the suit said.
In March of 2019, the girl was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and began attending counseling. She was placed on home-bound instruction for the remainder of the 2018-19 school year, and her parents began to seek a transfer of schools for the 2019-20 school year to separate the children.
Out of zone transfers in Sumner County require district approval.
The parents tried three different elementary schools – Beech, Madison Creek and George Whitten.
“In what can only be described as a bureaucratic nightmare, (the district) rebuffed them at every turn,” the suit states.
The parents asked Sumner County Director of Schools Del Phillips to reconsider the matter in June of 2019.
“They even pointed out, in writing, that Jane Doe – now by virtue of her mental impairment – qualifies for a ‘reasonable accommodation’ under Section 504 or the ADA,” the suit states, noting that the district did not respond.
‘No investigation, no follow up’
The parents eventually withdrew their child from Sumner County Schools and are now paying for homeschooling.
“At no time has (the district) even had the decency to advise the family of whether an investigation was undertaken, any findings, why the efforts failed, what discipline (if any) was occurring, or what would be different in the future,” the suit reads. “It failed to offer Jane Doe support, counseling, or protection.”
The district “never did adopt a workable safety plan. And it refused the obvious remedy of separate schools, over and over. This shows government inaction at its worse – deliberate indifference to Jane Doe’s rights and needs due to sexual harassment and sexual assault.”
Doe’s parents are seeking compensatory damages for violations of Title 9, the Fourteenth Amendment and the ADA, including damages payment for severe mental stress and anguish suffered by the girl and payment of costs of her private home-school education and counseling services.
They are also seeking “prejudgement interest” at the maximum rate on all sums awarded plus attorney fees, costs and any other relief that may be appropriate, according to filings.
They are being represented by law firms in Chattanooga and The Salonus Firm in Jackson, Tenn.