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Judge rules in favor of Decatur Schools in Renfroe sexual assault case

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Judge rules in favor of Decatur Schools in Renfroe sexual assault case

Beacon Hill Middle, formerly known as Carl G. Renfroe Middle School, City Schools of Decatur, W. College Avenue.

This story has been updated. 

Decatur, GA — A federal judge has granted City Schools of Decatur’s motion for summary judgement in a lawsuit alleging principals at Renfroe Middle School failed to prevent a sexual assault that occurred in the spring of 2020.

Judge William Ray issued his ruling on May 10, 2021. The ruling ends one of the five federal lawsuits against the school district. The other lawsuits are pending.

In response to the judge’s ruling, CSD said, “Title IX rights and student safety at CSD are among CSD’s highest values, and while the District regrets that this incident occurred, CSD’s administrators and employees responded appropriately to address the misconduct and provide support to the victim. CSD is pleased with the Judge’s decision dismissing all of the Plaintiffs’ claims against CSD.”

Title IX is the federal law that protects students from discrimination. Sexual harassment is considered a form of discrimination.

The victim’s mother, who is not identified in the complaint, filed the lawsuit federal court on March 9, 2020.

She alleges that the student who assaulted her daughter had sexually assaulted a different student on campus during school hours two months before her daughter’s assault. That assault was described as almost “identical” to the assault described in the complaint. The lawsuit alleges that the first victim reported the previous assault to Principal Greg Wiseman and Assistant Principal Alexis Glenn.

The lawsuit says, “Despite having actual knowledge of the earlier sexual assault, Defendants failed to take appropriate remedial and/or preventative steps to prevent [the suspect] from continuing further sexual assaults and groping of other students at RMS, including [the victim], or to otherwise take appropriate steps as mandated by law for the safety and well-being of other RMS students, including but not limited to [the victim].”

The Decatur Police Department’s School Resource Officer filed a report about the assault, but the Police Department did not have a report for the earlier assault.

A Police Department spokesperson said, “The report was assigned for investigation and [the investigator] subsequently filed a petition for sexual battery with DeKalb County Juvenile Court for the juvenile male suspect.”

In his ruling, Judge Ray determined that Glenn and Wiseman were entitled to qualified immunity, “a judicially created doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations,” according to Lawfare.

The judge also found that CSD was not “deliberately indifferent” in responding to the sexual misconduct of the assailant. He concluded that the plaintiff was not denied equal access to education due to the assault.

“Instead, despite experiencing what the court recognizes to be a traumatizing event, [the victim] was fortunately able to reintegrate herself back into RMS with the help of her parents, counselors, and Defendants [CSD],” Ray wrote. “For the above reasons, the court grants summary judgment to Defendant CSD on Plaintiff’s Title IX claim.”

There are four other pending lawsuits against the district:

– David Adams, the district’s former Executive Director of Staff Support, filed a federal lawsuit on Jan. 19, 2021. Adams alleges that former Superintendent David Dude’s public statement about his departure from the district hampered his ability to find work and breached a non-disparagement clause of his severance agreement with the district. He alleges a central office shakeup in December 2019 occurred because employees expressed concerns that Dude took more vacations than his contract allowed. Decaturish investigated these claims and found evidence to substantiate them. The School Board launched its own independent investigation of the claims, but it’s not clear what the status of that investigation is. Following our investigative reporting, the Decatur School Board announced on April 27 it was parting ways with Dude.

– Cheryl Nahmias, formerly a Decatur High Instructional Coach/International Baccalaureate Coordinator, filed a lawsuit in federal court on Dec. 23, 2020. alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. Her son made a racist video which became public in May 2020. She sued the school district after she was demoted and reassigned to a job within CSD’s central office. She claims the demotion was the culmination of a months’ long campaign of retaliation against her for sticking up for her son’s rights and for years of whistleblowing activities within the district.

– The mother of a girl allegedly assaulted in an Oakhurst Elementary bathroom is suing the district, alleging the district violated her Title IX rights.  The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in 2020 concluded its investigation prompted by an allegation that a gender-fluid boy assaulted the girl in an Oakhurst Elementary school bathroom. The investigation, which began in 2018, could not substantiate that an assault ever occurred. It did, however, note that City Schools of Decatur did not follow the proper investigative procedures under Title IX, the federal law that protects students from discrimination.

–  A former City Schools of Decatur custodian is suing the district in federal court, alleging the district didn’t pay him overtime wages he was owed. His attorney, David Cheng, said his client is seeking $2,400. The custodian, Shutoku Shia, filed the lawsuit in November 2020.

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