Parent reports sexual assault at middle school, says problems still unaddressed; Superintendent responds

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Letter from parent:

I believe I have a critically important story that I feel should be brought to light, centering around Fayette County’s Board of Education, and, from my experience, Bennett’s Mill Middle School, to include both the students and administrators.

On the surface, it appears this particular school has a decent reputation, fairly positive marks, and while I agree, every school, especially the middle and high schools, all tend to have a dark side of some form. Every school deals with some level of bullying, behavioral problems, and even some fighting; these things happen when you include ego, cliques, and finding little things that just irritate another student that causes animosity.

I learned that this year, things are FAR worse than when even I was in middle school. Sure, I wasn’t the popular kid, I got my share of insults, lost my temper, had a couple scraps, dealt with the fear of bullies and occasional sucker punches … but some of the things that surfaced include crossing lines I wouldn’t have dared cross at those ages.

Organized fighting in bathrooms, like UFC, but from wish.com, well away from the prying eyes and cameras of the administrators, some of which are currently posted and available on social media platforms.

“Confession” social media pages, where in one instance that I took a screenshot [of] was a teenage female offering sexual favors to anyone willing to assault my daughter, didn’t matter if it was a male or female, seemed akin to a “hired hit.”

Student boys (mostly) making sexually explicit noises, gestures, and comments in the hallways or even during class time … these children know that the administrators have no power, they have no true authority, and they will absolutely get away with anything, especially if they put on an innocent face on to lie through their teeth, as long as it sounds convincing enough.

The worst part is, the administration doesn’t see through those lies. But they can’t actually do anything about it, either they’re too scared, or they’re just incredibly dense or stupid.

I honestly couldn’t figure out which of these it is until an incident occurred to my own daughter this year at Bennett’s Mill Middle School. Only during this stressful event is where I learned a lot about how far-reaching politics are. It is not something a bunch of people sitting on Capital Hill that like to dodge actual issues, continuing to fail the people time and time again to do the jobs they were elected for … but it is right in our faces, right here in our own backyard.

My daughter used her cell phone to text her mother and myself from the bus at the end of the school day on January 14th that she had been sexually assaulted by a boy she shared classes with.

Early in the day during first period, he had placed his hand on her thigh, she forcibly removed his hand, which he later put it back, only for her to shove his hand off again. Soon, he proceeded to “drop” his pencil, as an excuse to further invade her personal space.

Had that been the end of it, I somehow don’t think it would have been pursued much further, especially had she not told us about it. Later in the day, during her 6th period class where they turn in their work folders from the day, as she was returning to her seat, this predator open-hand groped her groin area. Of course, she was stunned and physically hurt from this, she quickly returned to her seat.

It was when I got to the school after her text message as quickly as I could only to see that my little girl was NOT the same little girl I said goodbye to that morning … and as a father, it truly broke my heart. I was beyond enraged, I knew I had to keep my head on straight, but beneath the surface, I was ready to rip someone in half for hurting my baby. Even recounting this now, it feels like fire under my skin.

Moments later, we met with the staff that remained in the school, the principal, Resource Officer, a couple of teachers. [EDITOR’s NOTE: The principal mentioned here “resigned in mid-July to pursue other career goals.”]

At the time, it seemed like they acknowledged there was a problem and were determined to fix it. It was at this time we made it known that we were going to press sexual assault charges.

The next meeting a few weeks later was a total 180, where we had [Central Office supervisory] members, this is when it felt like it was Human Resources at a corporation that was protecting the face of the company.

While they did ask our daughter about the incident, they seemed very dismissive, especially [the Central Office] pencil-neck at the head of the table. Another of the [Central Office] reps present seemed especially dismissive.

Unfortunately, I had correctly predicted the outcome of this second meeting, after the “investigation” by the school, the evidence was deemed circumstantial, and dismissed. The predator was moved to a different team and ordered to maintain distance. He didn’t heed this, as he continued to encounter her and even taunted her in remote Zoom classes.

Fast forward to today, we found out just yesterday that this wasn’t the first, or even second time this student was moved to a different class because of inappropriate contact with a girl.

The shining light in this whole ordeal was the school’s Resource Officer, who was a wonderful advocate and ally for our daughter, along with a handful of teachers, though there are some teachers that felt differently.

In addition, going back to the day of the initial meeting where we reported the incident to the administrators, the first period teacher had contacted the other family by phone, and advised them of our intentions of pressing charges. In my view, this was interfering with an active investigation; of course, nothing came of it.

This wasn’t the first or last time this teacher would end up on the wrong side of me. He seems more intent on talking about [non-education issues] and showing music videos to students than teaching. In one case, displaying an email from me on his large whiteboard in the classroom where I put him in his place and calling him out on his dodging of my direct inquiries, inconsistencies, and blatant lies.

While we sought a professional to guide us all on how to cope and move on from this, whom [my daughter] is still seeing today. We have stood firm in assuring her that this isn’t her fault at all. Despite that, our daughter was changed and was truly afraid of this student.

She was even in the running to be the lead for the school play of “Beauty and The Beast.” During one of the rehearsals where the drama class put on the play for other students, her predator was there, causing her to have a severe panic attack.

Despite the failure of the school administration and the [Central Office administrators], we found some semblance of justice in the Juvenile Justice system. The victim advocate and DA were absolutely wonderful and put our minds at ease. Despite the stall tactics of the predator’s lawyer, the court went in our favor.

We made it clear from the beginning that we were not after money, we simply wanted very clear consequences for these actions. He plead guilty to simple battery instead of sexual assault, 12 months probation, classes, an apology letter, though I still feel he got off too easy. I wish I could say this was the end … it isn’t, and sadly it only gets darker.

Today is 20 July 2022; a former employer of my wife had linked us to another parent with a daughter in the same grade as ours [also experiencing problems]. While I would say that our girl got it bad in the bullying department, the other girl got it far worse. While it isn’t my story to tell, I can tell you that it got so bad that she wore a wire to school to record all the exchanges during the day.

At this point, I have not heard them myself, but I fully believe the parent when she says they’re extremely disturbing: Boys making sexually-explicit moaning noises, suggestive comments, demanding sexual favors, and being generally abusive.

Again, that is just a basic rundown of what I know, she has far more details than I can divulge here. I do know she has reached out to several parties by email and only received a response when a threat to go to the media was made.

I truly believe there is some need to investigate these actions in the schools, and despite the pretty coat of paint put on for the world to see, there is a lot of rotting underneath that needs to be shown to start repairing the short- and long-term damage these young women, and maybe even boys, are experiencing.

We cannot hope to fix this if we can’t convince these administrators to stop playing politicians and start being human beings.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Todd Moreau

Fayetteville, Ga.

[Moreau said he has started a FaceBook group to facilitate hearing from other parents whose children might be experiencing similar problems at their schools.]

The Citizen asked for a response to the letter from Fayette Schools Superintendent Dr. Jonathan S. Patterson. Here is his response:

County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Patterson. Photo/Fayette County Public Schools.
Fayette County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jonathan Patterson. Photo/Fayette County Public Schools.

“Although I cannot address circumstances regarding specific students, I recognize the courage it takes for a student to report harassment, assault, bias and bullying. Our administrators address these allegations as soon as they are brought to their attention.

“We do not tolerate harassing behavior by students or staff, and will take appropriate action upon notification as outlined in the Fayette County Public Schools Sexual Harassment of Students policy.

“We also provide supportive measures for students and their families such as counseling, extensions of deadlines or other course-related adjustments, modifications of work or class schedules, mutual restrictions on contact between the parties, and other similar measures.

“We are in the process of looking for a new principal for Bennett’s Mill Middle, and have been meeting with parents to determine the qualities and type of leadership they value most. We will ensure that the new principal is aware of all issues impacting the school so that they can be further addressed, and measures taken to help prevent negative behavior from taking place.

“Everyone should feel safe and comfortable at school. Any student with information regarding harassment should report it directly to their school principal or school counselor.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. As the mother of children attending Fayette County public schools your letter is disturbing. The offenses you describe certainly violate the Student Code of Conduct that all students and parents must sign at the beginning of each school year. I would hope that all principals would adhere strictly to the disciplinary procedures outlined in the policy. Our local Board of Education should likewise be vigilant in observing Georgia Law which requires development and implementation of disciplinary hearings. I would certainly hope that our principals and school board members follow the law. The penalties summarized in the policy should be enforced and students found guilty of particularly severe offenses (as identified in the Code of Conduct) should be reported to law enforcement.

    • You’re absolutely right, and, ESPECIALLY as far as sexual misconduct are taken too lightly. No question that there should be a strict zero tolerance policy on school grounds. With all that, the code of conduct (in my view, at least) has been a joke. You cannot legally hold a minor to any binding contract, all you’re really doing is making them sign a piece of paper saying they read it…that’s it.

      Now, a show of force with real consequences, that’s where results come from.

      Beat up a fellow student? That’s assault.

      Grope a fellow student? Sexual assault.

      Cat calling, demanding sexual favors, offering sexual favors? Sexual harassment, potential for assault.

      Use a book to hit a fellow student? Aggravated assault.

      We don’t get results by giving them a vacation, a few days out of school, or a couple days away from the teacher in ISS.

  2. “We do not tolerate harassing behavior by students or staff, and will take appropriate action upon notification as outlined in the Fayette County Public Schools Sexual Harassment of Students policy.”

    – Why is there an action outline and only specifies harassment? Should there not be a zero tolerance policy? We have a zero tolerance policy for our military servicemembers, is the undertaking of a similar policy too difficult to implement?

    “We also provide supportive measures for students and their families such as counseling, extensions of deadlines or other course-related adjustments, modifications of work or class schedules, mutual restrictions on contact between the parties, and other similar measures.“

    – IF the counselor makes contact with the parents or students at all, (granted, this is likely to be fixed with upcoming initiatives in the coming school year). Restrictions of contact only if they can be enforced, and administrators have the authority (or fortitude) to do so.

    “We are in the process of looking for a new principal for Bennett’s Mill Middle, and have been meeting with parents to determine the qualities and type of leadership they value most.“

    – I can concede to this, as well as other initiatives that have been discussed at our meeting locally a couple weeks back. I do see growing pains coming, but the plan is sound.

    “Everyone should feel safe and comfortable at school. Any student with information regarding harassment should report it directly to their school principal or school counselor.”

    – report it to the principal, teachers, counselors…but don’t forget to have that open trust and dialogue with your child so they will go to you and tell you that they were hurt, scared or other. And restricting phones in schools may not be the answer…if my daughter had not had her phone in school, we would have been forced to wait out the extended weekend to report the incident that happened to her. Instead, we addressed it day of.