Conway Public School officials are quietly preparing to fight a lawsuit that alleges administrators and teachers failed to protect an 8-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted by another girl student.
On one side, parents have filed a lawsuit saying school district officials are indifferent to child sexual assault. On the other side, the parents never reported the abuse to the Conway Police Department so police could start an investigation.
"The facts are not what [the plaintiffs] stated," the school’s attorney Sharon Streett said Thursday.
In the affidavit of the lawsuit filed in the Faulkner County Courthouse on July 6, attorneys said that in August 2011 the child was repeatedly pressured into sex acts by another 8-year-old girl, constantly bullied, came home with pulled hair and clothes torn and showed emotional distress, including "soiling herself."
"The sexual abuse included uninvited touching of intimate parts and penetration of both the anal and vaginal cavities of the minor plaintiff," according to the affidavit.
On Aug. 26, 2011, the girls’ teacher confiscated three to four letters from the alleged perpetrator to the victim. The letters were "sexual in nature," according to the affidavit.
Molly Lucas, an attorney for the parents, refused to reveal the letters. Streett called the letters part of educational records that are exempt from the state Freedom of Information Act.
Four days after the letters were discovered by the teacher, school officials talked to the victim’s parents about the letters. On Aug. 31, school officials met with the child and at least one parent and were told about several incidences "of sexual abuse that occurred" in the bathroom, according to courthouse records.
School officials did not report the incidents to the state Department of Human Services. On Aug. 31, the parents reported the abuse to the state, according to the affidavit. School employees are mandated reporters under Arkansas law.
A report was not made to the Conway Police Department, spokeswoman La Tresha Woodruff said. Faulkner County Prosecutor Cody Hiland said in email he heard about the case through media reports and didn’t know of any law enforcement investigations.
Lucas said she would not comment on why no report was filed.
Streett said she couldn’t comment on a pending court case, but she did say there is a reason school officials didn’t report the incidents as abuse. And, although the affidavit contends the school allowed bullying, Streett said "bullying is not an issue in this."
A quick search of courthouse documents revealed no previous lawsuits against the school for bullying, but bullying is happening at Conway’s schools.
A police report filed Sunday spotlighted the bullying of a 16-year-old girl who found a vulgar sign taped to her home and told police she was harassed at school. Two months earlier, parents of fifth graders said during a public meeting that they worried about putting their children into schools with older children as part of the redistricting at Conway Public Schools.
"I can tell you that since I filed the lawsuit, I have had people come out of the woodwork who were disappointed in how the school handled bullying with their kids," Lucas said.
Superintendent Greg Murry said he couldn’t talk about bullying, school policies or the lawsuit. In email, Murry said: "Based on the advice of our lawyer, we are not making any comments. We have nothing to hide, but since this [bullying] is one of the points of the pending litigation, we will not be making any comments or quotes."
Board Chairman Bill Clements said bullying is a problem statewide, but Conway Public Schools are on top of trying to prevent bullying and catch it, he said. The school district does a good job, he said.
Even if the incidents were between two children, school officials are supposed to report it, Lucas said. Officials should have known to take the harassment seriously after seeing the letters, according to the affidavit. Officials "had a duty to protect the minor," the affidavit said.
Yet, even after the victim was removed from the classroom Sept. 1 and placed in another class, she was still being harassed by the other child on the playground and in hallways, according to the courthouse document. The alleged perpetrator also called the victim at home.
It took about a month for parents to receive a waiver for their child to transfer from Jim Stone Elementary School to Julia Lee Moore Elementary School, according to the affidavit. Things appeared better for the child, but she did have some behavior problems that were not specifically named in the affidavit. In February, the district revoked the waiver and told the parents "she would have to return to Jim Stone Elementary," the school where the abuse occurred, according to the affidavit.
The lawsuit charges against six officials and the school district included statutory liability, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligence, according to the affidavit. Those charged are: the district, Mark Lewis, Linda Jackson, Karen Carney, Carroll Bishop, K.K. Bradshaw and Murry.
Lucas said the parents want a jury trail. The family was "basically ran out of the Conway school district," she said.
The girl is being home schooled and is no longer a student in Conway Public Schools. But home schooling is expensive. The parents are suing the school district to pay for their child’s education, counseling and pain and suffering, Lucas said.
No amount has been set.