The Rutherford County Board of Education was recently hit with a lawsuit filed by the parents of an autistic student over allegations that it stood by while their son was neglected and sexually assaulted at school.
The Rutherford County Board of Education is at the center of a lawsuit alleging it stood by and did nothing while a teaching assistant sexually abused an autistic eighth-grade student twice in September 2018. The suit was filed earlier this year by the student’s parents in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee. According to the allegations, the Rutherford County Board of Education is guilty of “sexual harassment under Title IX, denial of equal protection under the 14th Amendment and disability harassment under Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
At the moment, the names of the student, parents, teaching assistant, and school where the alleged abuse occurred are being kept confidential. Additionally, James Evans, a spokesman for Rutherford County Schools said he “could not comment on the case.” He added, “we cannot comment on pending litigation other than to say we will address these allegations through the judicial process.”
Jessica F. Salonus, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, also noted that she “could not comment beyond the allegations laid out in the filing other than to say that the next step will be a case management conference in late March.” But what happened?
According to the complaint, Rutherford County Schools “hired a male teaching assistant to care for the boy at school.” Back in September, “while the student was alone in a room with the assistant, a custodian walked in to allegedly find the assistant with his pants at his ankles.” Though the custodian immediately alerted the principal of the incident, the school “allowed the assistant to continue to work with the student and did not notify the parents.”
On another occasion, a different school employee “entered the student’s room and allegedly saw the caretaker standing over the student, who lay on a table, and touching the boy’s groin area.” Again, the incident was reported to the principal. This time, the principal alerted the school resource officer, who then alerted the student’s parents. Since the incident, the “student has been placed on homebound instruction.”
Now you would think that such incidents would result in the immediate termination of the teacher assistant. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case here. In fact, the teaching assistant remained employed “until the parents took out a protective order,” at which point the school finally terminated his employment.
In addition to the sexual abuse allegations, the suit claims the student endured frequent neglect from school administrators and staff during his sixth and seventh-grade years. For example, in sixth grade, he was allegedly “left alone in a classroom bathroom and reacted by hitting his head and mouth against a wall, knocking a tooth out.” Then, in seventh grade, he was left unmonitored again and climbed onto a therapy ball. Unfortunately, he fell from the ball and “hit his face and mouth on the concrete floor, requiring multiple surgeries and dental work,” according to the suit.
As a result of the abuse and neglect, the student’s parents are seeking a jury trial and damages for emotional and physical harm, as well as money to cover attorneys fees. The suit also set forth a list of requirements the plaintiffs would like to see Rutherford County Schools implement, including the following: harassment training, hiring protocols for staff working with children with intellectual disabilities, effective Title IX training in how to conduct an investigation and use remedial measures, and ADA and Section 504 training.