FAYETTEVILLE -- The mother of a Huntsville School District student has sued the district in federal court saying it knew students were sexually harassed and assaulted but did little or nothing to stop it.
The lawsuit was filed Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville by Rebecca Nelle on behalf of her child, identified as B.N.
The complaint alleges federal Title IX violations arising from deliberate indifference to, and actual knowledge of sexual harassment and sexual assault of multiple students; the district's failure to promptly and properly investigate reports of sexual harassment; and claims a hostile education environment was created that denied B.N. and other students access to educational opportunities.
"In fact, the Defendant forced B.N. and other children who were sexually assaulted to go back to class without any punishment on their abusers causing those that were sexually assaulted to be fearful of retaliation and retribution," according to the lawsuit.
She's represented by Joey McCutchen, Chip Sexton and Stephen Napurano, attorneys from Fort Smith.
According to a news release from the lawyers, the sexual assaults involved members of the freshmen boys' basketball team engaging in what was called "baptism" and "bean-dipping." "Baptism" refers to basketball players restraining other students while other players placed their genitals on or in the faces of the restrained students. "Bean-dipping" refers to a student forcibly placing their rectum and anus on the face and particularly the nose of another.
"The Huntsville School District had knowledge that these children were being sexually assaulted and did nothing. The investigations and punishments were conducted by people with obvious conflicts of interest," McCutchen said in the news release. "The result was that the perpetrators either received no meaningful punishment or no punishment at all. This creates a hostile educational environment for all students because these perpetrators are now back in school and playing sports like nothing ever happened."
The lawsuit claims Middle School basketball coach Kaleb Houston was told about the abuses in October but took no action to report the actions to his superiors.
Houston resigned in August.
Houston was also mandated by law to report the maltreatment of children, according to the lawsuit.
The district, according to the lawsuit, knew students were being sexually abused and took no action to stop it.
B.N., according to the lawsuit, was abused on 14 occasions while being held down against his will by older basketball players at the school. He was then threatened if he told school authorities or his parents of the abuse.
According to the lawsuit, at least 17 middle or high school players were victimized and at least one student paid another student not to abuse him, according to the lawsuit.
The district's investigation of the conduct was a "sham," according to the lawsuit, because those making decisions about punishment had a conflict of interest in some instances.
At least two of the perpetrators have parents that work for the district, and one of the School Board members is related to a perpetrator, according to the news release.
Two students who held others down received no punishment, according to the lawsuit. Two others were given one year expulsions but those were reduced to a semester each with online learning, according to the lawsuit.
No investigation was done into the 2019-2020 season, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends B.N. was sexually harassed after the district had knowledge older players were assaulting and harassing younger players.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, to be determined at trial, for physical harm, grief and emotional harm.
What is Title IX?
Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 is a federal law that states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” Title IX eliminates sex-based discrimination to ensure all students — both male and female — have access and equality in education. It offers a wide range of protections from athletics and admission to housing and sexual harassment.
Source: Staff report