“Schools have a responsibility to protect its students and to immediately inform parents when serious issues arise. That did not happen here, so we are proud to represent this family.” Attorney Eric Artrip
By Trisha Powell Crain | firstname.lastname@example.org
A group of first-grade girls sexually assaulted a first-grade female classmate on the playground and in the restroom at an elementary school in Hoover, Ala., according to a federal lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges the assaults occurred during the 2017-18 school year at Trace Crossings Elementary School in Hoover City Schools, a suburban school district south of Birmingham. The perpetrators, referred to as the “Harassing Girls” in the lawsuit, are not named.
The Harassing Girls, the lawsuit claims, assaulted their classmate by “holding her while they pulled her pants and underwear down” and groped her. Additionally, according to the lawsuit, the perpetrators “took her into the girls’ restroom and insisted that she wear a toddler diaper…instead of underwear.”
The then-6-year-old girl, identified as Jane Doe, continues to suffer “physical injury, severe emotional distress, anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, anxiety, frustration, stress, trauma and concern,” according to the lawsuit. She is now being homeschooled.
Neither Jane Doe’s attorney Teri Mastando nor Hoover City Schools immediately returned a request for comment.
The suit alleges the sexual abuse continued after school officials knew about the similar assault of another classmate.
The lawsuit claims that after multiple assaults had taken place, one of the perpetrators, identified as Jane Smith, told the other Harassing Girls to stop. The Harassing Girls then assaulted Jane Smith, according to the lawsuit. Jane Smith told her parents she was sexually assaulted by the Harassing Girls, and Jane Smith’s parents told school personnel about the assaults, according to the suit.
After the principal learned of the assaults on Jane Smith, the suit claims, he made the Harassing Girls run laps as punishment. Jane Smith’s parents withdrew her from Trace Crossings in January 2018, according to the lawsuit.
Jane Doe began to show signs something was wrong in February 2018, according to the lawsuit. “She became recalcitrant and intractable,” the lawsuit claims. One of her parents, identified as Mary Doe, quit her job in order to spend more time with Jane Doe, according to the lawsuit.
On Feb. 26, 2018, Jane Doe’s parents, Mary and Martha Doe, sent an email to Principal Quincy Collins “expressing concerns” about Jane Doe’s teacher. The next day, according to the lawsuit, Jane Doe’s parents were notified of “an assault against Jane Doe at Trace Crossings Elementary School.”
The lawsuit, initially filed in February and amended in August, claims school employees failed to protect the girl after learning about the assaults and did not take corrective action against school employees. Alleging violations of Title IX, equal protection and due process, plaintiffs seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Hoover Board attorney Carl Johnson filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit Aug. 23, alleging plaintiffs failed to establish a Title IX violation. Hoover claimed Jane Doe was not subject to “gender-based” harassment. The motion also claims school employees had no way to know about the “alleged vaginal contact.”
Hoover contends the lawsuit “amounts to a claim of simple negligence” and is not actionable due to school employees being protected under sovereign immunity.
The suit names several defendants, including first-grade teacher Michelle Kaiser, Principal Quincy Collins, then-Assistant Principal Amanda Stone, Counselor Terri Coleman and Superintendent Kathy Murphy. Also named as defendants are the Hoover City Board of Education, Trace Crossings aide Martha Harbuck and speech pathologist Heather Miller.
All defendants named in the lawsuit are being sued in their individual and official capacities, except the school board, which is being sued in its official capacity.
The lawsuit does not give exact dates of the alleged multiple sexual assaults. Jane Doe moved to Hoover from Huntsville in October 2017, when she enrolled in Trace Crossings Elementary school.
After learning of Jane Doe’s sexual assault from school employees on Feb. 27, 2018, her parents kept her out of school through Mar. 6, 2018, according to the suit. Jane Doe’s absences were “unexcused” and an official notice about absences was sent from the school, the suit claims.
On Mar. 5, 2018, a safety plan was developed by Principal Collins and Superintendent Murphy that included moving Jane Doe into a different classroom and having an aide supervise her during lunch, recess, assemblies and field trips, according to the lawsuit.
Collins told Jane Doe’s parents the investigation was complete on Mar. 9, 2018, and the safety plan would be put in place, but the suit contends Jane Doe was never moved to a different class.
On Mar. 23, 2018, a classmate cut Jane Doe’s hair, and on Apr. 2, she was pushed on the playground, according to the suit. On May 22, 2018, the lawsuit claims, Jane Doe was bruised after being bitten on the face and lip by a classmate during school hours. The suit alleges school officials did not notify Doe’s parents of the incident.
Jane Doe’s parents withdrew her from Trace Crossings on Jun. 1, 2018, and she is now being homeschooled.
All but two of the defendants are still affiliated with Hoover City Schools. Assistant Principal Amanda Stone moved out of Trace Crossings in December and worked in student services until her Sept. 1 retirement. Teacher Michelle Kaiser is no longer a teacher at Trace Crossings.
The official student incident report for the 2017-18 school year does not show any instances of assault or sexual assault at Trace Crossings.
In an email to AL.com on Sept. 17, Hoover City Schools spokesperson Jason Gaston wrote, “We cannot comment on pending litigation nor student discipline matters.”
U.S. District Judge David Proctor set an Oct. 3 deadline for attorneys for Jane Doe to respond to the motion to dismiss.