Lawsuit: Sumner County Schools allowed repeated sexual assault of 9-year-old

Posted at 4:00 PM, Jan 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-16 17:00:52-05

HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Sumner County Schools is facing a lawsuit alleging the district and the board of education failed to protect a 9-year-old girl from repeated sexual assault while at Burrus Elementary School.

The federal lawsuit says the young girl "Jane Doe" was sexually assaulted by another student, only referred to as "Sally Smith" in the school restroom, school playground and outside of the school.

Doe's parents met with Burrus Elementary School's principal, vice principal, a teacher and school counselor at the start of 2019 to report the abuse. The lawsuit says the parents asked for the school to keep Smith away from their daughter. The school responded by saying a safety plan would be put in place, but the family never received information on what that entails.

In February, Doe's parents asked the school for an official plan to be made to keep their daughter safe. The school said a the girls would be chaperoned whenever they were in the same place, including lunch, recess and the bathroom.

According to the lawsuit, despite the promise of a chaperone, Smith was still able to confront Doe and mock her for her parents' report of abuse. The lawsuit said in one instance, Smith cornered Doe and sexually assaulted her vengefully and violently.

Doe was showing visible and emotional signs of abuse, including nightmares and flashbacks, needing to sleep in her parents' room and inability to manage her emotions, the lawsuit said. Doe also missed school due to anxiety.

In March 2019, she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and sought counseling. Doe was placed on "home-bound instruction" for the remainder of the school year and received instruction twice a week for two to four-hour sessions.

The lawsuit detailed Doe's parents' failed attempts to transfer their daughter to another elementary school within the district. This included submitting "out of zone" request for Beech Elementary, which was denied by the school's principal, and writing to the Sumner County School Board of Education and Director of Schools. Officials on the Board of Education suggested Doe's parents file a request with George Whitten Elementary and Madison Creek Elementary, which the lawsuit says both principals said a transfer was not possible.

Doe's parents felt the only option they had was to withdraw their daughter and enroll her in home-schooling, the lawsuit says.

Sumner County Schools is accused of deliberate indifference to Doe's rights and needs due to sexual harassment and sexual assault.

The district addressed the lawsuit in a statement made by its attorney Todd Presnell.

"The Sumner County Board of Education is aware, and disappointed, that this family filed a lawsuit. 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. Instead, the Board is prepared to defend the case and will respond more fully in court," the statement said.

The family is asking for compensatory damages from the district for violating Title IX, the Fourteenth Amendment and the Americans with Disabilities Act and the mental stress and anguish the girl suffered. They are also asking for payment of her private home-school education and costs of psychological services she received following the abuse.