Federal lawsuit alleges sexual harassment against student at Perry Middle School

WARNER ROBINS -- A federal lawsuit claims a Houston County student was sexually harassed while attending Perry Middle School.

The complaint, filed June 18 in U.S. District Court-Middle District of Georgia, alleges the student was “inappropriately touched and fondled at the hands of several fellow Perry Middle School students” several times throughout the 2010-11 school year.

The student, a minor, is only identified by her initials. The complaint was filed on behalf of the student and her parents. Because of the age of the student, The Telegraph is not publishing the names of the parents.

When reached for comment Monday, Superintendent Robin Hines said he wasn’t aware of the lawsuit, which names Hines, Perry Middle School Principal Thomas Moore and the Houston County Board of Education as defendants.

The complaint alleges Houston County school officials failed to create a safe and harassment-free educational environment for the student.

“The boys made highly inappropriate, vile and harassing comments to (the student). Those comments were bullying, sexually threatening and vulgar in nature,” the lawsuit states. “As to the inappropriate touching, the acts included, but were not limited to, the poking of (the student’s) breasts, the grabbing of her buttocks and the hugging and hunching of her body in a sexual and highly inappropriate manner.”

The lawsuit states a teacher ignored the situation after the student complained, and when the mother spoke with the school’s assistant principal about the matter, she was informed the boys would not be punished because there were no witnesses.

However, the complaint goes on to claim there were witnesses to the harassing incidents. It does not state who those witnesses are.

The student’s father later contacted the superintendent’s office and a school police officer. Though Hines said he had not been informed of the situation when contacted by the father, the school police officer conducted an investigation and filed a report charging the perpetrators with battery connected with the sexual harassment of the student, the lawsuit states.

The Perry Middle School Handbook outlines punishment for those who engage in bullying, profanity or vulgarity, harassment or intimidation, and sexual harassment, ranging from in-school suspension to long-term suspension or, in the case of battery, potential expulsion, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states that when the father contacted the school’s principal he was told the incident was over and the boys would not be punished, though a district assistant superintendent later told the father the boys would be punished.

The lawsuit claims little or no punishment was given to the perpetrators.

The parents also filed a complaint through the Office for Civil Rights, which is responsible for enforcing Title IX of the Educational Amendments to the Civil Rights Act.

Title IX provides that no person should face discrimination on the basis of gender under any educational program or activity receiving federal funding.

“Under Title IX, schools must respond immediately and effectively to student complaints of sexual harassment,” the lawsuit states.

Houston County schools failed to do that “and instead, acted with deliberate indifference towards (the student),” the complaint reads, adding the continued harassment caused the student to become “anxious, upset, depressed and socially withdrawn ... greatly (impairing) her educational rights and liberty,” the complaint states.

The lawsuit claims federal violations of Title IX and equal protection under the Civil Rights Act, as well as state claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and breach of contract.

The family is seeking a jury trial and damages in an amount in excess of $500,000. Their attorney, Robert Fricks, of Warner Robins, could not be reached for comment.

To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 256-9751.