Education, Local News

Parent sues District 233 citing failures over alleged sexual assault

The mother of a student at Homewood-Flossmoor High School filed a lawsuit on Monday, Dec. 12, alleging District 233, the principal and a teacher failed to protect her daughter, who she says was sexually assaulted during a theater class.

Jessica Johnson, on behalf of her daughter, a junior at H-F, is asking for a jury to consider the case. Johnson charges her daughter was left unsupervised when a teacher asked her and her class partner, a male student, to go to a room off the classroom to practice. The girl is alleging that during the 20 minutes they were in the room her partner pulled a knife and forcibly raped her on Oct. 31.

Allegations include that the school board “willfully and wantonly” failed to protect the girl from harassment and physical harm, failed to supervise the principal and teacher and committed child neglect by creating, condoning and maintaining an unsafe learning environment. The lawsuit says because of the school board’s failures, Johnson and her daughter suffer emotional distress.

Johnson is asking for District 233 to pay “an amount in excess of $50,000” plus legal expenses.

Flossmoor police said Thursday, Dec. 15, that the investigation of the alleged incident is ongoing.

District 233 Superintendent Scott Wakeley, in a statement, said: “The school district is aware of the complaint filed Monday in Cook County Circuit Court. We are reviewing the allegations with counsel and preparing to respond. We deny the allegations set out in the complaint and we will assert a vigorous defense on behalf of the district itself and its employees.”

Stephanie White, the attorney representing Johnson, said Johnson and her daughter “hope to bring to light the culture of sexual and physical violence and to break the code of silence that has plagued Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233. Jessica and (her daughter) want to ensure that the proper changes are made to protect the students and families of the district, as well as students and families everywhere that have been affected by this horrific violence.” 

About 300 students held a protest Nov. 3. The students argued the school’s administration was offering limited responses to their concerns from this incident and one that allegedly happened in 2021. The administration responded by outlining changes to policies, adding additional social worker positions and setting up a student network so students could articulate their concerns.

The lawsuit cites the District 233 policy manual and says staff failed to follow rules set out in the policy “to establish and support student behavior policies designed to maintain an environment conducive to learning.” The lawsuit claims that prior to the incident the girl was bullied by the male student who she says had changed seats so he could sit closer to her in class, walked next to her in the hallways and tried to touch, hug and kiss her. She says she let it be known to him that she wasn’t interested in his advances. 

The suit also alleges that the male student came to school with a knife and that he openly displayed the knife, but staff did nothing to take the knife from him.

Once the girl let it be known that an incident occurred, she was ushered to the school nurse’s office. The suit alleges that the district would not let family members go to her, and when Johnson arrived she too was kept separate from her daughter for 90 minutes resulting in her “severe physical and emotional harm” because she couldn’t immediately comfort her daughter.

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