Archive for Wednesday, July 14, 2004

School denies discrimination allegations lodged in suit

July 14, 2004

In court documents filed last week, Tonganoxie school officials rejected a former student's claim that the district had sexually discriminated against him.

The district's contention came last Wednesday in a response to a lawsuit the former student's father filed in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan.

The lawsuit, filed May 7, alleges the district took no action to prevent sexual harassment of the student and failed to punish other students who participated in sexual harassment.

The suit also alleges the harassment prevented the student access to an education.

Defendants in the suit include school board members Rick Lamb, Darlyn Hansen, Bob DeHoff, Dick Dean, Leana Leslie, Ron Moore and Kay Smith; district superintendent Richard Erickson, junior high principal Steve Woolf, high school principal Mike Bogart and high school vice principal Brent Smith.

At the May 10 school board meeting, board members voted 7-0 to defend all the individuals named as defendants. Steven Pigg, Topeka, is the attorney representing the district.

The lawsuit alleges that from February 2000 to December 2003, the former student "was subjected to countless acts of sexual harassment, most based on a belief that (the plaintiff) was a homosexual and/or implied or contained innuendo to the effect that he was a homosexual," and that "most were known or reported to school district officials."

The defendant's reply to this allegation reads as follows:

"Defendants do admit that one student did complain occasionally, approximately annually, that he had been called names. On each occasion, defendants took appropriate action to investigate and address such complaints. Defendants deny that plaintiff was subjected to 'sexual harassment.'"

In response to the plaintiff's statement in the lawsuit, both of the former student's parents informed school officials and board members of the sexual harassment. The lawsuit states the parents' actions included making numerous telephone calls and trips to the school, attending a board meeting, and sending a certified letter to the Erickson.

"None of their efforts to get assistance in stopping the sexual harassment were successful," the lawsuit states.

In the school district's reply to the lawsuit, it stated that because the lawsuit fails to identify the plaintiff, the allegations could not be confirmed or denied. For that reason, according to the reply, the defendants denied the allegations.

Regarding the persons named as defendants, the school district's reply stated it is inappropriate to include THS principal Mike Bogart, who is retiring this summer, in the lawsuit. Also, the reply denies that any individual defendant has liability as an individual. In the reply, the defendants also requested that a jury trial be held in Kansas City, Kan.

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