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Mother alleges district failed to stop sexual harassment, bullying

Mother alleges district failed to stop sexual harassment, bullying

June 15th, 2011 in News

A Fulton mother alleges in a federal lawsuit that school officials did not take proper steps to stop two of her children from being bullied and sexually harassed while they were on the high school's wrestling team.

The lawsuit was filed June 9 in U.S. District Court for Western Missouri.

Twila Barnes accuses the Fulton Public School District of "failure to keep two of its students safe from relentless, pervasive, and multi-faceted sexual harassment and verbal and psychological bullying by students."

Barnes said Wednesday she hasn't decided whether her daughter - who would be a senior at Fulton High School - would continue at the high school in the fall.

Court documents report both her daughter and son were Fulton High students during the 2010-11 school year, but that her son was pulled out of school in April to be home-schooled.

Barnes would not comment further on the case, deferring questions to her attorneys - Kenner Schmitt Nygaard LLC of Kansas City and Kuhlmann LLC of St. Louis. Neither law firm returned repeated calls Wednesday.

The suit says Barnes' son was subjected to verbal harassment and discrimination, based on his perceived sexual orientation.

It also alleges that her daughter - the only female on the Fulton High School wrestling team - was subjected to repeated sexual harassment, including one instance where a student exposed himself to the girl.

The lawsuit says school officials were told about the harassment and discrimination, but failed to respond appropriately.

Barnes also is suing John and Margaret Keiser of Fulton, parents of the student accused of exposing himself; Teri Arms, former Fulton High principal; Michael Hight, former assistant principal; Eric Hudson, head wrestling coach; and David Milligan, the school's activities director.

The lawsuit argues Barnes' son was harassed by fellow students as well as Hudson. When Barnes' son fractured his foot and had to sit out of matches, the suit said, Hudson and the students engaged in calling him derogatory names.

Beginning Feb. 22, the suit reported, Barnes notified Arms, Hight and Milligan of the harassment, but the district "failed adequately to investigate or respond."

Barnes' daughter was targeted, the suit said, because her former boyfriend is black.

The lawsuit also argues that the student accused of exposing himself also repeatedly made sexually explicit comments to her.

Margaret Keiser, the accused boy's mother, refused to comment on the allegations.

Arms said Wednesday she was unaware of Barnes' lawsuit until reading about it in the media Tuesday evening.

"I'm working with (Superintendent) Dr. (Jacque) Cowherd and the district to find out what's going on and, from there, we'll know what to do," Arms said.

Arms added that the district has certain procedures to follow when it comes to handling sexual harassment, and there were only rare instances when she was involved in disciplining for it.

"But I did not handle any particulars with this (case)," Arms said.

Milligan deferred all questions to the school district's attorney - Tueth, Keeny, Cooper, Mohan & Jackstadt P.C. - saying he just had learned of the lawsuit Tuesday.

Kathy Wright, Fulton School District spokeswoman, said that school officials found out about the case through the media and, as of Wednesday afternoon, the district had not been served with a copy of the suit.

The lawsuit asks the federal District Court to order punitive damages against the Keisers and Hight, of $100,000 each; compensatory educational services from the district; attorneys' fees and costs; and other compensatory damages for the "physical, emotional, and psychological injuries alleged."