Blog : K12

‘It’s Like the Wild West’: Sexual Assault Victims Struggle in K-12 Schools

Under the Trump administration’s proposed Title IX regulations, schools would be expected to recognize complaints only where harassment is “severe and pervasive,” and could decline to investigate claims that happen off campus or outside the school’s programming.

The rules would no longer explicitly define how schools should address a “hostile environment” for accusers.

Check out the NY Times Article Here.

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Amid Alleged Broomstick Hazing Ritual Scandal, Damascus High Principal Resigns, JV Football Coach & Athletic Director Placed on Leave

When a JV high school football team,  thought to be like a family, allegedly commits the tradition of “broomstick” hazing to new teammates, the story is going to draw ongoing negative media attention…

Yesterday, the principal of Damascus High School in Maryland announced her resignation as a result of the alleged October 2018 “broomstick” hazing and rape of junior varsity football team members at the school.

This announcement follows news that the Damascus High’s JV football coach, Vincent Colbert, who was reported as the first school official to know about the attack (and that the school system waited hours to alert police) was placed on leave last month as part of the ongoing investigation…and later last night, a letter to coaches announced that the athletic director was also put on leave.

This heartbreaking news of hazing and sexual assault in high school is reminiscent of the suit School Violence Law & The Fierberg National Law Group filed on behalf of the Ooltewah High School rape victim who was sodomized with a pool-cue by teammates.

Read our first Blog article regarding the Damascus alleged hazing here.

Follow the ongoing coverage at The Washington Post, WTOP  and CBS NEWS.

 

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Where Does School Safety Stand One Year After The Parkland Shooting?

The New York Times | Margaret Kramer and Jennifer Harlan | 

The Parkland students became a force for gun control legislation and boosted the youth vote. Here’s how they changed America’s response to mass shootings.

On Feb. 14, 2018, a former student slaughtered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The next day, David Hogg, a student who survived the attack, expressed his frustration at the pattern of political inaction that seems to follow mass shootings in the United States. He was not surprised that there had been another school shooting, he said, and that fact alone “says so much about the current state that our country is in, and how much has to be done.”

“We need to do something,” he said. In the course of the next year, students would change the way the nation handles mass shootings, spurring new gun legislation and school safety measures, and holding to account the adults they felt had failed them.

Here’s a look at where they made those changes happen, and where they were disappointed.

With Parkland, it was the students who set the agenda. Their openness about their pain made them formidable leaders of the movement for gun control, and their displays of strength and utter grief struck a chord with a nation numbed by repeated acts of violence.

In the weeks after the shooting, busloads of Stoneman Douglas students took their case to the Florida capital and to Washington. With a rallying cry of “Never Again,” they gathered support from other young people and activists, and their March For Our Lives campaign spurred huge rallies and hundreds of protests, including a nationwide school walkout.

The movement brought youth activism to a new age — finding global power in social media and pushing public officials to acknowledge their accountability.

Stoneman Douglas students and parents were outraged by what they viewed as gross incompetence on the part of school and law enforcement officials. Video showed that a sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school did not enter the building as the attack unfolded. Seven other deputies remained outside as gunshots rang out, a state commission found.

And in January, Florida’s new Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, suspended Sheriff Scott Israel for his “neglect of duty” and “incompetence.”

In the case of Mr. Cruz, the warning signs were many. There were the boasts about killing animals, the expulsion, the stalking of a female classmate, the repeated calls from his mother to the police. School counselors and a sheriff’s deputy decided at one point that he should be forcibly committed for psychiatric evaluation, only to apparently change their minds the next day. Multiple tips to the F.B.I. were left uninvestigated — one woman told the bureau’s tip line she was worried about Mr. Cruz going “into a school and just shooting the place up.” At that time, there was no law in Florida that would have prevented Mr. Cruz from buying a gun or would have allowed the police to take away his weapon. A gun control bill the state passed in March now allows law enforcement — with judicial approval — to bar a person deemed dangerous from owning guns for up to a year.

State legislatures, both Republican- and Democratic-controlled, passed 76 gun control laws in the past year — from bans on bump stocks and caps on magazine sizes to new minimum-age requirements and expanded background checks. Among the victories for gun control advocates was an omnibus bill in Florida that raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm in the state to 21 and extended the waiting period to three days. In all, more than half the states passed at least one gun control measure in 2018, with Washington and New York joining the trend in 2019.

At the same time, there were significantly fewer new state laws expanding gun rights in 2018 than the year before, according to an end-of-year report by the national advocacy group Giffords. Data provided by the N.R.A. also indicated that the number of enacted gun control measures outnumbered pro-gun measures for the first time in at least six years.

Read the Entire New York Times Article Here 

The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law applaud these students. Our lawyers negotiated the historic settlements for the wrongful deaths and injured survivors of the Virginia Tech Massacre, which valued in excess of $11 Million.  The settlements established a foundation in their honor that continues to advocate for safe schools and gun control, which we continue to represent.

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Investigation Reveals 2 Decades & 100s of Victims of Sexual Misconduct in Southern Baptist Churches

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Nashville headquarters. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

The Washington Post

By Kristine Phillips and Amy B Wang | February 10 at 6:18 PM

“20 years, 700 victims”

So reads part of the headline of a sweeping investigation that has found years of sexual abuse perpetrated by hundreds of Southern Baptist church leaders against an even larger number of victims.

The Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News reported that nearly 400 Southern Baptist church leaders and volunteers have faced sexual misconduct allegations in the past two decades. As many as 700 victims — some as young as 3 — were sexually abused, some raped and molested repeatedly, according to the report.

But instead of ensuring that sexual predators were kept at bay, the Southern Baptist Convention resisted policy changes, the newspapers found. Victims accused church leaders of mishandling their complaints, even hiding them from the public. While the majority of abusers have been convicted of sex crimes and are registered sex offenders, the investigation found that at least three dozen pastors, employees, and volunteers who showed predatory behavior still worked at churches.

The revelations, published Sunday, have not only led to a chorus of condemnation and calls for restructuring, but have also pushed church leaders to grapple with the troubling history — and future — of the largest Protestant denomination in the country.

“We must admit that our failures, as churches, put these survivors in a position where they were forced to stand alone and speak, when we should have been fighting for them,” J.D. Greear, who was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention last summer, said on Twitter. “Their courage is exemplary and prophetic. But I grieve that their courage was necessary.”

The investigation comes amid a string of recent allegations of widespread sexual abuse by Catholic priests and coverups by the church hierarchy. Just a few days earlier, Pope Francis acknowledged that members of the Catholic clergy had abused nuns for years.

The Southern Baptist Convention, a fellowship of more than 47,000 Baptist churches and 15 million members across the United States and its territories, is the country’s second-largest faith group after the Catholic Church.

Greear, who was not available for comment Sunday afternoon, addressed the investigation in forceful terms, saying in a lengthy Twitter thread that he was “broken” over what it had revealed and that it was a “heinous error” to apply Baptist doctrine in a manner that enabled abuse.

“The abuses described in this [Houston Chronicle] article are pure evil,” Greear wrote. “I join with countless others who are currently ‘weeping with those who weep.’ ”

Greear called for “pervasive change” within the denomination, including taking steps to prevent abuse, fully cooperating with legal authorities when people reported abusive behavior and helping survivors recover. He did not go into detail about what those steps would look like, except to say that “change begins with feeling the full weight of the problem.”

Greear also admitted that the church had failed to listen to abuse victims, although it is unclear whether he was indicating he had personally known about any allegations within the Southern Baptist Convention. He added: “We — leaders in the SBC — should have listened to the warnings of those who tried to call attention to this. I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure we never make these mistakes again.”

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said the revelations are “alarming and scandalous” and paint a stark portrait of the depravity of those who used their positions of power to prey on the defenseless, all under the guise of faith.

“Nothing is worse than the use of the name of Jesus to prey on the vulnerable, or to use the name of Jesus to cover up such crimes,” Moore wrote in a lengthy post on his website. He added: “Church life has fueled the undue shame of the survivors of such abuse.”

He called on churches to immediately report possible instances of sexual abuse of children and adults.

“In all of this, the church should deal openly with what has happened in the church while caring for all those who were harmed,” he wrote. “No one who has committed such offenses should ever be in the ministry arena where such could even conceivably happen again.”

In Texas, where the newspapers said many of the abuses happened and where the Southern Baptist Convention has some of its most prominent congregations and pastors, church leaders expressed similar feelings of alarm.

“May there be peace upon the victims & may we do our part to make necessary changes as a convention,” Michael Criner, a senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Bellville, Texas, wrote on Twitter. Criner said he has attended and ministered at Southern Baptist Convention churches his entire life.

Megan Lively, who accused a prominent Southern Baptist leader of encouraging her to not report to authorities that she had been raped, said that although she knew there were others with similar stories, she was shocked by the number of victims revealed by the newspapers’ investigation.

“I can’t put into words the utter despair I felt earlier and continue to feel now,” Lively said in an email to The Washington Post.

Lively told The Post last year that she was raped in 2003 when she was pursuing a master of divinity degree in women’s studies at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. The seminary’s president at that time, Paige Patterson, urged Lively to not report the alleged abuse to police and to forgive her assailant, she said.

Lively said there won’t be an “overnight fix” for the problems of sexual abuse, but she’s confident in the current Southern Baptist Convention leadership.

“They fought for me and loved me, many times behind the scenes with no public recognition in an effort to keep me safe and keep my story private. … They are working hard to make sure past mistakes are not repeated,” Lively said.

“SBC leaders must be willing to listen to the hard stories, difficult requests” and advice from survivors to change the culture, she added.

Victims, she said, should seek professional help and find someone with similar experiences. For Lively, that person was Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual assault.

“In the worst times, I shared my heart with her, and she made me feel like I was completely normal to react the way I did,” Lively said. “Survivors need fellow survivors to walk with them. During the good and the bad.”

Denhollander also took to Twitter on Sunday to weigh in on the report.

“The worst part is that we have known for years. I have known most of this for years, and spoken out about it. No one wanted to listen. It did not matter enough to investigate and act,” Denhollander said. “Grief and repentance and silence to learn is the only proper response.”

Denhollander’s husband, Jacob, said the number of instances of sexual abuse is not the primary problem.

“Better training and protection policies can help address that,” Jacob Denhollander tweeted. “The bigger issue is that there is a pattern of leaders, who knew of the abuse, protecting the perpetrator and shaming the victims.”

Max J. Rosenthal, Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey contributed to this article.

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Judge denies consent as possible defense for teacher accused of sex with student

Former Athens teacher Tyler Millward enters the courtroom Monday.

A judge ruled Monday that a former Athens teacher charged with having sex with a student is prohibited from using consent by the victim as a defense.

The attorney for Tyler Millward of Springfield argued that his client should be allowed to argue at trial that because the victim consented to the relationship that he is not guilty of the crime.

“It is our position that consent is a defense and if the court finds it is not a defense than (the Michigan statute) is unconstitutional,” defense attorney Anastase Markou said.

Millward, 30, is charged with three counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a student between July 2017 and January 2018 when she was 16 and while he was a teacher at Athens High School. His trial is scheduled for early March. He faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The student had Millward’s child in December. The Enquirer does not name victims of alleged sexual assault.

In his argument Monday Markou told Calhoun County Circuit Court Judge John Hallacy that while Michigan law prohibits teachers having sex with a student, it does not prohibit a defendant from using consent as a defense. And he said the girl was 16, which is the age of consent in Michigan.

“The legislature did not specify that consent was not a defense,” Markou said. “They were not clear in this case. The legislature could have eliminated consent (as a defense) but they did not.”

Prosecutor David Gilbert told the judge Michigan law says “a teacher does not have the right to have sex with a student and that is clear under the case law. To say you have a right to have sex with a student, that is just not true.”

And Gilbert said while the law used to charge Millward may not prohibit consent as an argument, it does specify that the victims are covered between the ages of 16 and 18.

And Hallacy agreed with Gilbert’s argument.

“The statute is very specific and here the legislature expanded the age up to 18. The age of consent is 16 but the statute says up to 18.

“You can’t have sex with anyone between 16 and 18 so consent is not an issue because of the relationship,” Hallacy said.

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Chad Curtis’ ex-wife loses bankruptcy protection in his $1.8M judgment for sex assaults

Chad Curtis

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – A judge rejected a bankruptcy petition filed by the ex-wife of former major leaguer Chad Curtis who was accused of trying to shield her assets from a $1.8 million judgment against Curtis.

A federal judge earlier awarded $1.8 million to a former Lakewood High School student-athlete who was molested by Chad Curtis while he volunteered for the athletic program.

Candace Curtis filed for bankruptcy the same day that a U.S. District Court magistrate recommended that she be made a party to the judgment.

Curtis, 50, is serving seven to 14 years in prison after being convicted in 2013 of sexually assaulting three student-athletes under the guise of performing therapeutic massages. A fourth joined them in a civil lawsuit. Chad Curtis settled claims with three victims for $10,000 each but the other was awarded $1.8 million in a federal bench trial.

The student-athlete who was awarded the judgment filed a motion to dismiss Candace Curtis’ bankruptcy case.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge John Gregg, in an opinion issued Wednesday, Jan. 23, said Candace Curtis did not act in good faith in filing the bankruptcy petition.

The judge noted that the Curtises, in prison recordings, had “discussed shielding their marital assets and respective revocable trusts from (the student-athlete).”

The student-athlete’s attorney, Monica Beck, filed a motion to dismiss Candace Curtis’ bankruptcy petition. She had obtained the recorded calls and accused the couple of fraud after Curtis gave all of his assets to his ex-wife during divorce proceedings.

Among them is a 23-acre horse farm in Ada Township which she listed for sale three years ago for $1.9 million. Candace Curtis listed liabilities of $13,000.

Gregg said his purpose was not to determine if fraud was committed but whether Candace Curtis acted in good faith in filing for bankruptcy protection. He said the jailhouse recordings, in which she said she didn’t want the student-athlete to get anything, were made several years ago and not necessarily an indication of her lack of good faith.

“The same cannot be said of the Debtor’s testimony … which is indicative of the Debtor’s lack of good faith. During the hearing, the Debtor made several troubling statements. Although the Debtor acknowledged that she intended to satisfy the claims of her other creditors, she was not necessarily prepared to address any allow claim of (the student-athlete),” the judge wrote.

She intended to sell the farm to her daughter and still have use of it, the judge said.

“These intentions are not representative of an honest but unfortunate debtor seeking to reorganize in good faith, Gregg said.

He said the student-athlete’s claim will return to U.S. District Court where Judge Janet Neff will decide whether to adopt Magistrate Judge Ellen Carmody’s recommendation that Candace Curtis be made a party to the student-athlete’s effort to collect the $1.8 million judgment.

“Curtis’ acts were devastating to many people on many levels,” Gregg said. “As the debtor testified, she did not cause any damage to (the student-athlete) – Curtis did. Nonetheless, (the student-athlete) asserts a claim against the Debtor, the merits of which will be adjudicated by the District Court.”

The four victims earlier settled a lawsuit against Lakewood Public Schools for $575,000, with the schools’ insurance company paying $375,000.

Curtis played for the Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees and others in a 10-year career. He earned $14 million in that time, the victims’ attorney said.

Story Here

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Statement Regarding the Allegations Against Kingsley Middle School Principal, Karl Hartman

Kingsley Middle School Principal Accused of Sex Crimes

Image result for kingsley michigan principalKingsley, MI – We are deeply saddened to hear of the allegations of sexual victimization of students at Kingsley Area Schools. As attorneys at The Fierberg National Law Group, we represent survivors of school sex abuse in Michigan and across the country, helping them seek justice and healing.  We understand the trauma and harm young victims and their families suffer, and the betrayal felt when those who stand in positions of authority over children violate the trust that parents, students, and the community place in them.  Although we know from our work on behalf of victims around the country that sexual assault and abuse in schools is all too common, we are still dismayed to learn about this alleged misconduct in our community.  Our heart goes out to these young men and their loved ones.

About The Fierberg National Law Group

The Fierberg National Law Group, with offices located in Traverse City, Michigan, Colorado, and the District of Columbia, represent victims of violence and harassment, including sexual abuse and assault, to make certain their rights are protected, achieving justice for victims and their families, and ensuring perpetrators and institutions that fail to comply with their obligations to protect children are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

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