GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A family is suing Marcellus Community Schools, saying the district botched a Title IX investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and didn’t do enough to protect a fifth grade student from two of her classmates.
The lawsuit filed in federal court March 12 names the school district in Cass County, its school board, Superintendent Nanette Pauley, Title IX coordinator Melinda Bohan, Marcellus Elementary School Principal Sarah Bischoff, counselor Tammy Curtis, teacher Henry Essex and Title IX investigator Robert Dietzel as defendants. The name of the plaintiff was limited to initials and her daughter’s name was replaced by a pseudonym to protect her identity.
The suit claims that “Jane Doe” had long been bullied by two of her classmates, who were also referred to by pseudonyms in the lawsuit, but the situation escalated last school year when the two other girls would hold Jane Doe, then 11, down and have contact with her genitals. It says they ignored her when she told them to stop.
The lawsuit says Marcellus teachers and administrators didn’t do enough to stop the bullying, nor did they call Jane Doe’s mother after another girl’s mother reported the same type of inappropriate touching. The suit says Jane Doe’s mother found out about it from the other student’s mother.
It goes on to claim that the Title IX investigation took 155 days, longer than the 120 days allowed in the school’s Title IX policy, and that Jane Doe’s family never got an explanation for why.
The suit says the investigation labeled the two other girls’ actions as sexual harassment but found they didn’t meet all the standards to be classified as sexual assault. The suit says that determination didn’t appropriately consult the definitions in multiple federal laws and that the investigator should have also considered other findings like stalking.
And, the suit says, the district didn’t further punish the two girls after the Title IX investigation was over.
The suit also alleged that the Title IX report included language that discouraged the parents from talking about its findings.
Jane Doe’s parents ultimately pulled her out of Marcellus schools. They say the abuse has led to post-traumatic stress disorder and panic attacks and that Jane now struggles being around others and doesn’t trust the adults at her new school.
The suit alleges violations of Title IX, including indifference to sex discrimination and a hostile environment; denial of free speech rights; denial of due process; denial of equal protection; a violation of Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act; and negligence.
It asks the court to order Marcellus Public Schools to update its Title IX policy and train staff on that new policy. It also seeks damages and attorney fees for the plaintiff, though it does not list a dollar amount.