Society

School Covers Up Sexual Assault Allegations, Punishes Victims

| by Kathryn Schroeder

A civil rights lawsuit has been filed against a school district that allegedly did not respond to sexual assault claims appropriately, but merely punished the girls involved.

The court filing states that administrators at Burch Middle School threatened two seventh-grade girls who reported being raped with discipline -- and mounted what is being called a “campaign of vengeance against them” by IAcknowledge -- instead of offering support, guidance, or counseling in the matter.

The sexual assault claim was made against two boys, and it is said to have taken place in school and on a field trip. The girls reported that they were restrained and groped on a school bus and in the school computer lab. One of the girls was allegedly sexually assaulted by one of the boys on a school trip to Charleston.

“Every action taken by defendants was either to minimalize the allegations against the boys and/or to protect the alleged male juvenile perpetrators,” according to the filing, signed by Assistant Attorney General J. Robert Leslie.

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The lawsuit was filed by the attorney general of West Virginia, Patrick Morrissey, and names Melissa Webb, principal of Burch Middle School in Delbarton, Deanna Maynard, vice principal, Hester Keatley, guidance counselor, Melvin Cunningham, a coach at the school, and Randy Keathley, superintendent of Mingo County Schools. The Mingo County School Board, the two alleged assailants, and their parents are also named in the filing.

The lawsuit claims that one of the boys allegedly told the other during an attack, “Don’t worry, [your relative] will take care of us.” Both boys named are related to Mingo County school system employees, reports CBS News.

The WV Gazette reports that guidance counselor, Hester Keatley, was told by the two girls of the alleged abuse, leading to phone calls between the girl’s mother and Jada Hunter, the school’s principal at the time. The girl’s mother was reportedly not informed of the full extent of the abuse.

In a meeting with administrators and the alleged attacker’s parents, one of the boys’ father reportedly admitted to the abuse allegations.

Still, Melvin Cunningham, a coach at the school, allegedly told the victim she could not prove anything as there were no witnesses and reportedly threatened her with disciplinary action if she continued to complain. Furthermore, Hunter apparently said she would take care of the matter without law enforcement getting involved.

Mingo County Schools requires employees to report any claims of sexual abuse to law enforcement within 48 hours.

The punishment the boys reportedly received was denying them an ice cream break during the administering of the WESTEST, and giving them one day out-of-school and one day in-school suspensions.

The girls allegedly received various forms of punishment from the school following the claims.

One of the girls was reportedly given an infraction for bullying because she allegedly blocked a teacher’s niece from her Facebook account. The next day she reportedly received an infraction for insubordination.

A more dire offense occurred when one of the girls was reportedly moved back a grade because one of the boys was in her classes, notes Raw Story. The boy is said to have remained in his age-appropriate class.

State police spokesman Lt. Michael Baylous said the agency’s Crimes Against Children Unit is investigating.

"The investigation of these crimes are a priority to us and we all need to take it serious and when there's an allegation this has occurred, it's very important this allegation be investigated thoroughly," Baylous said. "That's what we're going to do it. We're going to investigate it thoroughly and hopefully get to the bottom. Everyone should be alert and report these crimes as soon as they're made aware of them."