Family suing Marcellus Schools over alleged mishandling of abuse claims

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 1:49 PM EDT
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CASS COUNTY, Mich. (WNDU) -- A Cass County family is suing Marcellus Community Schools.

WARNING: The details of this story are disturbing.

The suit filed this month alleges the district did not properly investigate claims that an 11-year-old student was sexually abused by two of her classmates. The suit says the fifth grader was held down and touched inappropriately by two other girls at least five times in 2021. The alleged sexual assaults included touching the student’s genitals, despite her telling the girls to stop.

In an October 2021 incident, the student says her classmates restrained her in the bathroom, injuring her shoulder in the struggle. Her parents reported this to the Principal of Marcellus Elementary School, and one of the girls involved in the incident was given a one-day lunch detention.

The lawsuit alleges Marcellus Community Schools did not appropriately respond to the reports of abuse “to protect their employees and hide their employees’ children’s misconduct” because the girls accused of the assaults had family members who worked for the district.

The student’s family filed a formal Title IX report in November of 2021. The investigation took 155 days to be completed, according to the lawsuit. This exceeds the 120-day timeframe allowed by the district’s Title IX policy.

Once the Title IX investigation was completed, the lawsuit says Superintendent Nanette Pauley determined that the touching was not sexual assault, but instead was sexual harassment because the conduct consisted of “repeatedly tapping in the genital area over the clothes.”

However, the suit maintains that Michigan’s laws define criminal sexual conduct as including force or coercion “when the actor overcomes the victim through the actual application of physical force or physical violence.” Michigan law also defines sexual contact as including “the intentional touching of the clothing covering the immediate area of the victim’s or actor’s intimate parts.”

The lawsuit says the girls involved in the incidents were not disciplined, despite the determination that misconduct had occurred.

The family has since pulled their child out of the Marcellus Community Schools. They say she has been diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, and depression after the alleged abuse. They are now suing Marcellus Community Schools, the 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.

The lawsuit asks for a trial by jury in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan. The family is seeking an injunction that would require the school to create and/or revise their Title IX policy to include “immediate notice to the parents or guardians of all students involved in or the victims of any substantiated or confirmed sexual misconduct.” They also want all faculty and staff to be trained on Title IX “reporting, response and investigation procedures.”

The family is also seeking damages from the district for not handling the investigation into the abuse claims lawfully.