A southwestern Missouri school district is feeling the heat as comments of denial circulate regarding the federal lawsuit that seeks punitive damages from school officials who allegedly failed to protect a 7th grade student from sexual assault. The lawsuit was filed on July 5, 2011, against the Republic School District in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
The student, identified as a 7th grade special education student, claims that she told the Republic Middle School officials of a rape that had occurred in the spring of 2009. Officials identified in the lawsuit are school principal Patricia Mithelavage, school counselor Joni Ragain and school resource officer Robert Duncan. The lawsuit alleges that the officials dismissed her story, telling her mother that they believed her story to be fabricated. The mother was later told that the student recanted her story during one of these meetings.
The school then instructed the student to write and personally deliver a formal apology to the boy she accused of assaulting her. The school did not seek consent from the student’s mother. She was then expelled for the remainder of the 2008-2009 school year. The school attempted to end the incident by telling the ‘juvenile authorities’ that the student filed a false report.
Upon returning to the middle school for the 2009-2010 school year, she was sexually assaulted again on February 16, 2010, by the same boy, according to the lawsuit. She stayed silent in fear of being expelled for another school year. When notified, the school officials doubted the girl’s claim, saying they’d “already been through this.” Upon medical examination, however, the girl was found to have been sexually assaulted. The suit alleges that the DNA evidence found in the girl matched the accused male student. Regardless, the school suspended the girl for "disrespectful conduct" and "public display of affection.”
The school district denies all of the family's claims, saying that if anything happened it was the "result of the negligence, carelessness, or conduct of third parties over whom the District Defendants had neither control nor the right to control." The school district released a written response saying the allegations are "frivolous" and "have no basis in fact or law."
The school district released a statement on their website:
It is important to remember that the allegations in a lawsuit are just that -- allegations. The district has filed an answer denying the allegations...The district cannot discuss confidential student matters and does not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit was first reported by the Springfield News-Leader newspaper in Missouri Wednesday. The male student involved plead guilty in juvenile court to unspecified charges after the family notified police when the girl was raped a second time, the newspaper reported.