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Parents of a former student at Dr. William Burrus Elementary School say the school district didn’t do enough to protect their daughter from abuse from another student in a federal lawsuit filed Dec. 30. FILE

The parents of a nine-year-old Burrus Elementary School student filed a lawsuit in federal court Dec. 30 alleging the Sumner County Board of Education failed to protect their daughter who they say was sexually assaulted and harassed at the school by a fellow classmate.  

According to the lawsuit filed in U. S. District Court by the parents and guardians of “Jane Doe,” the parents reported to the school’s principal, vice principal, teacher and counselor in January of 2019 that a female classmate had sexually assaulted their daughter on more than one occasion. The lawsuit alleges the abuse occurred in the school restroom, on the school playground, and outside of school.  

The parents say they were told that a safety plan would be put in place but no such plan was put in writing or given to the parents, according to the lawsuit. 

When the parents asked in February of 2019 for a plan that would keep their daughter away from her alleged abuser, the school system said it would provide a chaperone for whenever the two girls were in the same area like at recess or lunch. However, the other student easily eluded the chaperones and continued to taunt and abuse their daughter, the lawsuit contends.

The parents say their daughter was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in March of 2019 and began attending counseling. She was then placed on homebound instruction where she finished the 2018-19 school year. 

They also say that their attempts to have their daughter transferred to another Sumner County school were unsuccessful. The parents first sought to have their daughter transferred to Beech Elementary but an out-of-zone request was rejected by both the Beech principal and the Board of Education, the lawsuit contends. It also says that the parents’ attempts to have their child transferred to two other Sumner County elementary schools were rejected. 

“At no time has SCS even had the decency to advise the family of whether an investigation was undertaken, any findings, why the efforts failed, what discipline (if any) was occurring, or what would be different in the future,” the lawsuit states. “SCS never did adopt a workable safety plan. And it refused the obvious remedy of separate schools, over and over.”

The lawsuit contends that the school district violated the student’s rights under the 14th amendment of the U. S. Constitution; Title IX; section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act; and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The parents are asking for a jury trial and are seeking unspecified damages for “the severe mental stress and anguish suffered” as well as payment for the girl’s homeschooling and psychological services. 

They are also asking for injunctive relief to include changes in policies, training, supervision and observance of the federal statutes the lawsuit accuses them of violating. 

The school district categorically denies the allegations, according to Sumner County Board of Education attorney Todd Presnell.

“The Sumner County Board of Education is aware, and disappointed, that this family filed a lawsuit,” Presnell said in a written statement. “Because of the nature of the allegations and out of respect for the privacy of the involved families and students, the Board will not provide specific comments. Instead, the Board is prepared to defend the case and will respond more fully in court.”

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