The family of abuse victim is convinced school personnel should have instituted a better screening process for its employees.
Bobby Gobble, a janitor at Lebanon Elementary School in Lebanon, Virginia, plead guilty in 2014 to 150 counts of aggravated sexual battery, carnal knowledge and sodomy in connection with the abuse of four boys, two of which were students at the elementary school. He is currently serving 70 years in state prison. Gobble had actually convinced the parents of one of the boys, a third grader, to move the child in with him during the reign of abuse. Most of the acts occurred in the school and in Gobble’s home, where he slept in he same room as the victim who resided with him.
The family of this particular victim is convinced school personnel should have instituted a better screening process for its employees, and they believe the district could have better protected the child, who remains anonymous in court documents. A $10 million federal lawsuit primarily focused on “John Doe” has been filed against the Russell County School Board alleging that school employees were not well positioned to prevent Gobble from abusing children or to spot signs that the victims were being mistreated. Furthermore, the family and the boy’s attorney, Michigan based lawyer Monica Beck, is claiming the school actually turned a blind eye to what was happening, refusing to acknowledge the abuse, claiming the school engaged in purposeful negligence of criminal acts. The suit details multiple instances in which the school allowed Gobble to be with students unsupervised and in isolated areas on the grounds.
Beck also asserts a teacher had learned Gobble’s marriage failed when his wife became “jealous” of the child, and yet the employee did not see this as a red flag. Instead, the teacher allowed Gobble to continue regularly escorting students to his custodial closet. Another teacher spotted Gobble hiding in the dark with a student behind a pile of boxes, but didn’t report it.
Jim Guynn of Salem, Virginia, is representing the school. He claims there is no evidence the school board or any of the school’s employees had any knowledge of the crimes. He also states that they cannot be held liable because the interactions they observed between Gobble and the boy were legal. Guynn asserts that the boy’s family was unaware of the abuse, and it is, therefore, unreasonable for the school to have had any knowledge of what was happening.
Beck is asserting that Lebanon Elementary violated Title IX by failing to conduct an investigation after allegations were made. Instead, they had relied on an investigation being conducted by the Department of Social Services, and the school’s current principal, Amy Hooker, even denied knowledge of abuse when interviewed by the Department. Yet, she told Gobble at one point the child should not stay after school with him unless he is enrolled in a legitimate after school program, which some may view as passive admittance she believed something inappropriate was happening. The school’s former principal, active at the time of the abuse, also admitted to knowing that Gobble and the boy had an out-of-school relationship, and that Gobble was taking the boy on road trips. He indicates he didn’t question the behavior, because he was unsure of the guardianship status of the child. The case is calling to question fundamental issues regarding what a school should be held liable for in preventing and pursuing claims of sexual assault on school grounds.