A family is suing a Michigan school district after a group of kindergarteners allegedly sodomized their child and recorded the assault on an iPad.
The federal lawsuit, filed this week against the Grandville School District, claims that nearly four years ago, the district failed to intervene when five-year-old “Jimmy Doe” of Century Park Learning Center in Wyoming, Michigan was taken to the “mudroom” and was forcibly touched, sodomized, and photographed by classmates.
The lawsuit specifically names the victim's kindergarten teacher Hillary Hubert, former Grandville School district superintendent Ron Caniff, current superintendent Roger Bearup, assistant superintendent Scott Merkel, and the school’s Principal Tonia Shoup as having failed to protect the boy or hold his alleged tormenters accountable.
Four boys allegedly sexually abused “Jimmy” during the classroom’s “free time,” wherein the group directed the boy to pose for nude photos using school-owned iPads, court documents show. According to complaint, which was first reported by the Detroit Free Press, the students repeatedly deleted old nude photographs of the student to make room for new ones.
If the youngster failed to comply with the students’ request, they threatened to not be his “friend,” the documents alleged. Additionally, the group said if the boy tattled on them, they would blame him for “the idea,” according to the federal suit.
Nearly a month into the boy’s kindergarten year, the usually “happy preschooler” started to deteriorate, his parents said. That fall, during a parent teacher conference, Jimmy’s parents, who were in the dark about the severity of the alleged assaults, requested Ms. Hubert “watch out for teasing,” court documents show.
Two months later, Jimmy’s emotional health allegedly continued to decline.
The student later told his parents he was being “teased” for pictures, and, they claim to have again notified the teacher. Hubert said that she had not noticed teasing in the classroom and complimented Jimmy’s artwork, per the lawsuit.
That spring, however, Hubert finally began to notice some trouble. While in class, the teacher noticed a boy was hiding the screen of his iPad. When she confiscated the device, she noticed a camera roll full of the Jimmy’s genitals.
Principal Shoup alerted the mother of the photos and claimed to have interviewed the students, conducting a “complete investigation” that found no assault or coercion occurred. The four boys claimed it was all Jimmy’s idea.
The boy’s mother requested the pictures not be deleted, but, according to the lawsuit, Principal Shoup said the pictures were “pornographic,” and therefore the parents could not review them, and police directed her to erase them.
This contradicts the police report, however.
According to police documents, Principal Shoup contacted the police, but declined to identify the four boys. Shoup told the police she deleted the photos and said she only contacted them because the boy’s mother “demanded it,” according to the records.
According to court documents, superintendent Caniff and assistant superintendent Merkel stressed that the incidents needed to be viewed as part of kindergarteners’ normal curiosity. They suggested that if the parents insisted on pressing the matter, “Jimmy” would be the one to be disciplined as he was the only child whose genitals were photographed, court documents show.
In a statement, Caniff, who now works for another school system, disputed those allegations.
“At the time I was at Grandville Public Schools, there was never any suspicion, suggestion or complaint expressed about inappropriate physical contact between the students involved in this matter, nor did the investigation indicate any concerns in that regard,” he said.
The group that attacked Jimmy eventually graduated to the first grade, while the boy was left back. A year later, he was still taunted by classmates, who allegedly bribed him to show his genitals, according to the lawsuit. During recess, the boy hid beneath play structures and covered himself in mulch to avoid bullies.
The lawyer representing the family, Anne L. Buckleitner told The Daily Beast the family is “struggling to return to and maintain normalcy.” Adding that the family "looks forward to resolution."
In a statement, superintendent Bearup said: “We cannot respond in detail to the allegations. However, we assure you that our focus is and always will be the safety and care of every student who walks through our doors.”
He added: “Our teachers, principals, and district administration taken great pride in that. Litigation is meant to be an avenue to the truth. We patiently wait for that truth to be revealed.”
Hubert, the boy's kindergarten teacher, is still listed as an employee of the school, according to a staff directory on the school’s website. Hubert did not immediately return a call from The Daily Beast.
The lawsuit is alleging Title IX violations and “gross negligence” against the district.