HOLLAND, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal lawsuit claims Holland Christian Schools protected a rapist rather than his victim, including failing to suspend or expel the rapist despite his criminal conviction.
The 28-page lawsuit filed Tuesday by the victim's parents says the girl began dating the then-17-year-old, identified only as BJD, in November 2015.
After learning of the relationship, her parents noticed she began acting depressed in February 2016. As a result, they confiscated her phone, but BJD apparently gave her another one to stay in contact with him.
In May 2016, the girl's mom found a "terribly mean abusive message" from BJD the day after he raped the girl. The suit says messages included threats by the boy to hurt himself if she broke up with him, a suggestion that she should kill herself and an apology for forcing the victim to have sex.
“He referred to the incident as ‘rape,’" the lawsuit states.
The girl wouldn’t confirm the rape happened at that time, but the boy’s parents agreed to switch his schedule so he wouldn’t be in the same class.
When school resumed in August of 2016, the girl confided to a teacher that the boy had raped her, the lawsuit states. Not knowing the girl hadn’t told her parents, the teacher contacted Children's Protective Services. When the CPS investigation began, the victim confirmed to her parents that her ex-boyfriend had raped her.
The girl’s mother says she contacted Principal Darryl De Ruiter, Superintendent Daniel Meester and the school board, among others, to notify them of the situation. However, the lawsuit contends the school did nothing to separate the teens and didn’t discipline the suspect. The suit says the principal even “minimized the rape, stating it was just ‘underaged sex.’”
The lawsuit states the suspect “could roam freely at Holland Christian,” allowing him to approach the victim, attend the same choir class, pass each other in the hallways, cafeteria and library, as well as after-school events. The suit says she was "terrorized."
The lawsuit states the victim suffered post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety. She missed school and also suffered academically.
BJD pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct in the case in December 2016 and was released on bond. At that time, the suit says, a judge said that BJD should "not be on the premises of Holland Christian High School."
"Incredulously, De Ruiter interpreted this order to mean that BJD could not be on school grounds 'as long as [Plaintiff] is not there,'" the lawsuit reads in part.
The suit says the prosecutor's office had to contact the principal to clarify the order. BJD stopped attending classes, but the lawsuit says BJD wasn't expelled or otherwise disciplined. The suit claims the school sent teachers to his home so he could finish classes.
In their lawsuit, the girl's parents claim school staff members wrote letters supporting the rapist before his sentencing in February 2017 but that no one did so for the girl.
As a result, BJD was allowed to keep participating in an after-school choral group call Living Hope. The lawsuit goes on to say that the district refused to make accommodations to make sure the girl and BJD wouldn't come into contact while he was at the school for choral practice.
The lawsuit claims the district violated its Title IX responsibilities meant to prevent sexual harassment. Because Holland Christian Schools receives federal funds through the National School Lunch Program, the plaintiff’s lawyer contends the private school is subject to Title IX regulations.
The suit also claims the district inflicted emotional distress on the victim by supporting the rapist over her and was negligent in its responsibility to protect her and discipline the rapist. The suit also claims a breach of contract between the victim's parents and the district because school officials didn't provide a safe environment for their daughter and violated their own disciplinary rules.
The suit is asking for monetary damages, though it does not specify a dollar amount.
The superintendent told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday that the district had only recently received the lawsuit and was consulting with its attorneys to "actively defend the school."
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