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Tennessee District Sued Over Alleged Sexual Harassment of 8th Grade Student

A Loudon County public school student attempted to take his life after school staff failed to take reports of harassment seriously

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On Dec. 3,  a Loudon County public school student attempted to take his life after school staff failed to take reports of sexual harassment seriously, a lawsuit alleges.

The male student, identified as “John Doe,” was unsuccessful in his suicide attempt and his parents have filed a lawsuit against the Loudon County Board of Education. Their son would not have attempted suicide had staff members at Fort Loudon Middle School followed the county board of education’s sexual harassment policy.

The day before trying to shoot himself with his father’s handgun, the then-8th grade student told his parents that he had been continuously sexually harassed since the school year began. His parents immediately informed school staff, who scheduled a meeting the next day.

But despite discussing preventative measures, such as stationing a teacher near the student for his safety, the boy reported another assault the same day as the meeting. School staff corroborated the incident through video footage but failed to take the matter seriously, according to the lawsuit.

After meeting with both the victim and the harassers, who admitted to the behavior as “just joking around,” the principal minimized the impact of the behavior. The harassing students “do not have good home lives,” the principal, who is unnamed in the suit,  told Doe.

Later that day, the victim wrote a note to his family, intending to take his own life.

“I love all of you all. I will be by the gas tank,” he wrote.

The Loudon County Board of Education has not responded to requests for comment.

The procedures listed under the Loudon County Title IX and Sexual Harassment policy were not followed at all, said the plaintiff’s lawyer, Justin S. Gilbert from Gilbert Law, PLLC.

The Loudon County Board of Education’s policy for handling sexual harassment  includes disseminating information about what constitutes harassment to school staff, students and parents. Under the policy, anyone with knowledge of sexual harassment needed to report immediately to the appropriate staff member, listed as Matthew Tinker.

Tinker never received a report, according to the lawsuit. Parents were also not informed of the sexual harassment policy, which details how to file a formal complaint.

The school’s sexual harassment policy also allows for an investigation and procedure to allow all involved parties due process. None of this occurred after the initial report of sexual harassment, according to the lawsuit.

Gilbert also believes the male student’s distress was not taken seriously because of discrimination.

“Being male, the assaults were treated too casually. (Doe) felt helpless, thus attempting to take his own life,” he said.

The student’s parents are seeking damages up to the statutory maximum available, or $300,000, under Tennessee law against Loudon County Board of Education. They are also seeking $50,000 for emotional distress.

Lawyers for the student’s parents are not aware the student alleged to have harassed Doe have been reported to the police. The plaintiff has since returned to Fort Loudon Middle School for ninth grade.

Tennessee Lookout is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Tennessee Lookout maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Holly McCall for questions: info@tennesseelookout.com. Follow Tennessee Lookout on Facebook and Twitter.

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