Lawsuit: Woodford County superintendent complicit in sexual harassment case
WOODFORD COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ) – Some community members in Versailles are calling for the resignation of the Woodford County superintendent and two other administrators for their alleged complicity in a sexual abuse case involving a former teacher.
In October 2018, the parents of two sisters filed a federal lawsuit against the Woodford County Board of Education, saying Superintendent Scott Hawkins did not correctly handle complaints against former choir teacher J. Cooper Schrimsher.
The lawsuit says Hawkins’ actions were violations of Title IX requirements.
Even though the lawsuit was filed in 2018, parents are still learning more through Hawkins’ Dec. 2019 deposition about how he handled the complaints.
The deposition and summary of the harassment have been circling social media, specifically a Versailles Facebook group forum.
One of the members of the group decided to start an online petition calling on Hawkins and two other administrators to resign, saying they failed the students, allowing harassment to continue over a year.
The petition has over 200 signatures.
Monday, a parent spoke on behalf of the petition in front of the regular scheduled Board of Education meeting asking for the board to learn from the past as they move forward.
Board of Education attorney Dana Collins told ABC 36 in a statement the plaintiffs didn’t report all the sexual harassment complaints until the suit was filed, so the school did everything it could at the time.
“The school reported the matter to the Versailles police, to social services and to the state teacher licensure board,” Collins said. “The school took this matter very seriously and acted appropriately.”
Schrimsher is accused of sexually harassing two female students, who are sisters, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says Schrimsher asked to see a student naked, and also promised lead roles in school plays, scholarships and gifts, all in exchange for inappropriate sexual touching and communication.
One of the students, identified as K.G. in the lawsuit, says she recorded conversations between herself and Schrimsher. According to the lawsuit, in one of the conversations, Schrimsher said he wanted to be with K.G. sexually and to see her breasts.
In another incident, the other student, identified as M.G, says Schrimsher came to their house and showed her a “breathing technique” to help her sing better in the choir. The lawsuit says this involved Schrimsher getting behind M.G. and holding her waist.
The lawsuit says, in January 2017, another student saw inappropriate conversations between K.G. and Schrimsher and reported it to school administrators.
According to the lawsuit, the victims’ mother complied with school officials’ demands she confiscate K.G.’s phone. However, the lawsuit says K.G. was not interviewed at the time, nor was any formal or written complaint provided.
The lawsuit states, in August 2018, a classmate reported the recorded conversation between K.G. and Schrimsher to the school’s principal. The suit says the sisters were then brought to the office and and were not allowed to leave without providing written statements.
In Hawkins’ deposition he was asked about the conversation he had with Schrimsher about the alleged recording. Hawkins admits there is no notes, or evidence, of the conversation.
It’s little nuances like no notes, that has parents like Robin Espinoza fired up.
“No notes were taken within meetings. Why? I take notes when I get a phone call for anything,” she said.
The school board accepted Schrimsher’s resignation in August 2018, more than a year after the allegations began, according to the lawsuit.
This is also something that’s frustrating parents. Dianna Gilmore said Schrimsher should have been fired.
“I was mortified to think that he was allowed to resign,” she said.
While the attorney for the board is working to show the district did follow proper procedures, some parents say they want accountability.
“Our goals are to hold the administration to higher standards of communication, accountability, documentation, investigations, ethics, and above all, protecting our
students,” Gilmore said.