HANCOCK COUNTY — A county woman has filed a civil lawsuit against Mt. Vernon Community School District and two county families, claiming her daughter was sexually assaulted on a district school bus and district officials failed to protect the child or report the crime.
The lawsuit, which has four different claims, was filed in Hancock County Superior Court 1 Sept. 20. The paperwork states that a Mt. Vernon Middle school girl identified as Jane Doe had been physically bullied and sexually harassed in incidents which were reported to officials with Mt. Vernon Middle School throughout the 2022-23 school year.
“Despite the knowledge of the ongoing harassment, the defendants failed to supervise or protect Jane Doe against ongoing bullying and grooming behavior,” the lawsuit states.
According to in.gov, Indiana law states that if anyone has any reason to believe a child is abused or neglected, they must report, and they must report immediately. Knowingly failing to report a belief that a child is a victim of child abuse or neglect is a Class B misdemeanor under Indiana Code 31-33-22-1.
The lawsuit goes on to state that, on or about May 2 and May 3 of this year, the minor Jane Doe was sexually assaulted on a school bus by John Doe I and John Doe II while she was under the care, custody and supervision of the Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation and Mt. Vernon Middle School.
The lawsuit further goes on to say district officials did not follow state mandates in reporting the alleged crime. Indiana is a mandatory reporting state where anyone who suspects a child has been neglected or abused must by state law make a report.
The lawsuit states that after reporting her sexual assault to the office at Mt. Vernon Middle School, Jane Doe was asked to complete an “incident report” and sent back to class, and that neither defendant, Mt. Vernon Middle School nor Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation, reported the sexual assault of Jane Doe to any law enforcement agency, despite the mandate.
The lawsuit then goes onto say, “the following day, on or about May 4, Jane Doe was called to the office, as were John Doe I and John Doe II to ‘discuss the allegations’ made in the alleged incident report. After speaking with Jane Doe, and presumably John Doe I and John Doe II, all three minors were sent to the bus to ride home together.”
The lawsuit then states, “while forced to ride home with her assailants, the minor child Jane Doe was verbally harassed, intimidated, frightened, and suffered extreme emotional distress.”
The lawsuit also states that the Mt. Vernon Middle School or Mt. Vernon Community School Corporation has a history and practice of failing to meet their requirements as mandated and had a history of such failings well before the two sexual assaults of Jane Doe.
Back in 2016 the Mt. Vernon Middle School principal was accused of failing to report suspected child sexual abuse. Scott Shipley was the principal at the middle school at the time and is now the director of curriculum for the district.
Shipley was initially charged with a misdemeanor charge of failure to make a report. He was accused of failing to report allegations that a district employee sent sexually explicit photos to a high school student. In order to have the charge dismissed in May of 2017, Shipley agreed to give educational presentations to staffers in every district in the county in exchange for prosecutors dismissing the charge.
Court records noted Shipley learned of the allegation March 12, 2016, but no one reported it to authorities until March 29, 2016 — 17 days later. Mt. Vernon High School guidance counselor Bronwyn Kotarski told Shipley on a Saturday, March 12, 2016 about a rumor where an employee had sent inappropriate photos to a high school student. The employee was working at the middle school at the time.
The current lawsuit states “officials with the Mt. Vernon School District had a duty of reasonable care to protect the minor Janie Doe from injury, including but not limited to assault/molestation, or unwanted touching by both their own employees, as well as from other students.”
The lawsuit states that district officials are being accused of failing to properly supervise the minor students; failing to provide a safe environment for the minor student, Jane Doe, despite the ongoing issues she and her family had reported; failing to properly report and investigate Jane Doe’s complaint as mandated; failing to protect Jane Doe from a known danger and failing to properly train the employees and staff regarding the investigation, reporting, and/or handling of allegations of sexual abuse, harassment or molestation.
The lawsuit is also against the two juvenile boys named as John Doe I and John Does II as well as their parents. The lawsuit states that John Doe II sexually assaulted the minor, Jane Doe, on the school bus on or about both May 2 and May 3 while John Doe I continued to cause emotional trauma to the minor, Jane Doe, through harassment, bullying and verbal assaults. The lawsuit notes the parents of the boys are therefore civilly responsible.
There are four charges listed in the civil lawsuit, including one that states that the mother of the victim suffered shock, harm and emotional trauma when she learned of the assaults and treatment thereafter, which had been done under the shroud of secrecy and kept from the mother.
Maria Bond, the communications director for the Mt. Vernon School Corporation disputes the claims in the lawsuit and said that as soon as administrators were made aware of the situation, it was immediately reported to law enforcement and the student’s parents.
“The school has continued to work with law enforcement,” Bond said in an email to the Daily Reporter. “Our students’ well-being and safety is and always will be Mt. Vernon’s most important priority.”
Officials from the Fortville Police Department (FPD) confirmed that they were made aware of the situation and took a report on the alleged incidents, but their dates differ from the ones in the lawsuit. Officials with the FPD said they started a report on May 16 after the father of the alleged victim called the FPD to report the incidents. Officials with the FPD said an investigation, which involved forensic interviews, interviews with school officials, and a look at bus video footage did occur. The findings were sent to the Hancock County Prosecutor’s office in June for consideration of charges.
Prosecutor Brent Eaton confirmed his office did receive the report of the alleged incidents this summer and noted it is still under consideration. However, he also noted that the vast majority of cases involving juveniles are never made public, regardless of the outcome. When asked if school district employees were neglectful in reporting the crime in a timely manner, according to state law, Eaton said he doesn’t have any report indicating that at this time.
“Whenever there is something involved where a person is injured, that is where the focus of the investigation goes first,” Eaton said. “The other things will be figured out.”