HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - The Madison County Board of Education said student safety is its first priority, and added incorrect information has been circulated by the news media about a 14-year-old student's rape at Sparkman Middle School in 2010.
The school board and its attorneys spoke at a news conference Tuesday. The school board had been mostly silent prior to this.
"The uproar fueled by misinformation has been hurtful to the people involved and the functioning of the schools," said School Board President Jeff Anderson. "The Madison County School System believes in a commitment of excellence to each student. Student safety has been, and will always be, a top concern for us."
The school system has come under heavy criticism in the past week due to the case. A 16-year-old raped a 14-year-old girl during a botched sting operation in a boy's bathroom in 2010. Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief in support of the girl's family, saying they should be able to sue the school board and school administrators in a civil matter.
Prior to this, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Putnam had ruled in favor of school administrators. Mark Boardman, the school board's lawyer, said the judge was the only independent party to review the matter.
"Judge Putnam found no evidence of any violation [by school administrators]," Boardman said. "The judge found they took proper action to protect not only this student, but also all students."
Boardman said Sparkman administrators immediately notified law enforcement when they learned the 14-year-old student had been raped by a 16-year-old student.
"No administrator played any role in this at all," Boardman said firmly when pressed.
"They took steps to protect the 14-year-old girl when she returned to school. She experienced no further harassment," Boardman said.
"This was a misguided attempt, perhaps foolish. The aim of [the aide] was in the right manner. She was trying to help the student, she just did it in the wrong way," Boardman said. "The policies say we must protect the individuals. Unfortunately, her attempt to do so was misguided."
"Much of what has been printed about this case was taken from a plaintiff's perspective, not Judge Putnam's interpretation of the case," Boardman said. "And I stress, he is the only independent party to review this case."
"We remain confident that the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will affirm the ruling and find in favor of the school system and the school administrators," Boardman added.
The attorneys for the guardian of the girl released this statement Tuesday night:
The Plaintiff and her attorneys are disappointed with the statements made earlier today by the Madison County Board of Education. The Board stated how hurtful the media reports have been to the administrators involved and to the Madison County School system, but did not accept responsibility for the failed policies that caused this tragic situation.
The Board’s policy that no harasser would be punished unless he was “caught in the act,” created the very situation that allowed a boy, with a long history of sexual and violent misconduct at school, to roam the school’s halls freely, harassing girls to have sex with him in the bathroom. Because of this policy, a teachers’ aid told the assistant principal she was sending this girl into the bathroom to catch this boy in the act; where, instead, the girl was raped.
The Department of Justice and the Department of Education reviewed this case and said that the lower court got it wrong. It got the facts wrong; it got the law wrong.
The Board's attorney also failed to mention that the federal judge did not throw out the state law claims for negligence and wantonness against one of the administrators.
This is the exact same behavior we have seen all along from the Board: from the day of the rape, until the time they shredded the boy's records, until they appealed the fact that Judge Putnam found evidence to support the state law claims against Ms. Dunaway.
The Plaintiff and her attorneys remain committed to seeing all the facts come forward and providing her with a day in Court.