GRANDVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — A kindergarten student at a Grandville Public Schools Elementary School was sexually assaulted by other kindergarten students during free time more than three years ago, according to a lawsuit filed in Grand Rapids Federal Court.
24 Hour News 8 is not naming the children involved and the lawsuit lists the alleged victim as Jimmy Doe.
In the fall of 2014, Jimmy was a kindergartner at Century Park Learning Center which is part of Grandville Public Schools but is located in the far southwest corner of Wyoming known as the panhandle.
The suit says that on multiple occasions between fall of 2014 and April 22, 2015, four boys took Jimmy to a part of the classroom known as the mudroom where they observed the child’s genitalia, touched him and sodomized the child.
The students used their school-issued iPads to take photos of the sexual conduct – they also directed Jimmy on how to pose and they took so many photos they had to delete them to make room for new ones, the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Grand Rapids District Court alleges.
The students allegedly told Jimmy that if he told, he would have no friends and would be blamed for instigating the activities.
Jimmy’s parents allegedly went to school officials concerned about his failure to do well in school and declines in his physical and mental health.
They asked teacher Hillary Huberts to be on the lookout for teasing, but she allegedly said that nothing was amiss.
On April 22, 2015, Principal Tonia Shoup called the parents and said that pictures had been discovered on another student’s iPad showing Jimmy in various poses.
The lawsuit says school officials, including then Superintendent Ron Caniff, now head of the Kent Intermediate School District, said the pictures had been deleted at the advice of police and they refused to identify the boys involved.
A Wyoming Police report shows that investigators were told it was Jimmy’s idea, there was no bullying and the photos were never shared online and “the principal (was) confident no harm had come of it.”
District officials urged the parents to consider the actions in light of children’s natural curiosity and also told them that their child could be the one who gets in trouble because the other students said he initiated the actions.
It would be months before Jimmy told his parents about the alleged incident and they urged police to investigate.
The Wyoming Police report shows that Jimmy told them what had happened, and also said that when he tried to get away from the boys, they would physically block him and threaten to show the photos to other students and blame it on him.
The police report goes on to say that the other boys denied the incident.
The police report says no charges were filed after Assistant Kent County Prosecutor Vicki Seidl said there would be no prosecution because of the ages of the children involved, even if it were proven true. The case was closed in September of 2016.
The parents put Jimmy in another school in the district where he had to repeat kindergarten, but the incident followed him there when children knew of the pictures and would ask him to show them his privates.
Jimmy would spend his recesses hiding, even burrowing into the mulch at the playground to hide, the suit says.
The suit accuses the school district of gross negligence when it failed to protect Jimmy, failed to properly investigate the incident and did not monitor the behavior going on in its very classroom with school assigned equipment.
Ron Caniff said he was unaware of the lawsuit until he was contacted by 24 Hour News 8 and needed to refresh his recollection of the alleged incident.
The attorney for Grandville Public Schools would say only that the allegations are without merit.
In a Thursday statement, the district superintendent said it would not respond in detail because the litigation was still pending.
“However,” Superintendent Roger Bearup continued, “we assure you that our focus is and always will be the safety and care of every student who walks through our doors.”
Attorney Anne Buckleitner of Grandville-based Smietanka, Steffes and Gezon said the suit has not specified money damages at this point and negotiations with the district will be on-going.