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State AG’s suit says school officials punished middle-school students for reporting sexual abuse

Posted May 9, 2014 11:35 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has filed a lawsuit that alleges school officials in Mingo County retaliated against two middle-school students who reported sexual abuse last year and protected the two male youths they accused.

The suit (PDF) claims that school officials minimalized the allegations, undertook an ineffective investigation, and allowed a relative of one of the accused youths to work on the investigation. School officials punished the accused youths by denying them an ice cream break and giving them a two-day suspension, the suit says.

Meanwhile one of the female victims, referred to as Victim 2, spoke with state police and was written up over the next two days for alleged bullying and insubordination, the suit says. Victim 1 was charged with a “trumped-up” infraction of deceitful conduct after her parents asked to see the investigative file, the suit alleges.

The Associated Press, Metro News and Education Week's Rules for Engagement blog have stories.

The suit seeks an injunction against several Burch Middle School officials and the Mingo County Board of Education, according to a press release. Also named as defendants are the two accused middle-school students, identified as Juvenile 1 and Juvenile 2.

The suit seeks an injunction barring the defendants from interfering with a state investigation, from intimidating or retaliating against the juvenile females, and from committing further acts of abuse.

Female victims had told a guidance counselor last year about the abuse by the two males, consisting of “nonconsensual fondling, groping and molestation, often forcible in nature,” on school grounds and buses, according to the suit. One of the victims was subjected to forcible penetration by Juvenile 1 while on a field trip, according to the suit’s allegations.

Parents of Victim 1 demanded a meeting, the suit says. The school obliged, setting up a meeting with then-principal Jada Hunter, the fathers of the accused juveniles, and teacher and coach Melvin Cunningham, who is also one of the defendants. At the meeting, the father of Juvenile 2 allegedly admitted the youth’s abuse and apologized.

Notwithstanding the father’s admission, the suit says, Cunningham stated there were no witnesses and Victim 1 couldn’t prove a thing. Hunter allegedly agreed and said Victim 1 could be disciplined for reporting the attacks, the suit says. Hunter also allegedly said that if Victim 1’s parents didn’t call police, she would “take care of it.”

According to the suit, the school administrators didn’t adequately investigate the abuse allegations. “Instead, every action taken by defendants was either to minimalize the allegations against the boys and/or to protect the alleged perpetrators,” the suit says.

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