Missouri Paper Sues School District Over Records

June 11, 2012

A southwest Missouri newspaper is suing a school district for not disclosing how much money the district paid to the family of a middle school girl who claimed her school ignored allegations she had been repeatedly raped by a fellow student.

The Springfield News-Leader filed its lawsuit Monday, claiming the Republic School District is required under Missouri’s Sunshine Law to make public much it paid in November to settle the case.

The girl and her family filed a federal lawsuit against the district last July, claiming the school failed to protect her after she reported a fellow classmate had harassed, assaulted and raped her during the 2008-09 school year.

After a settlement was announced in November, The News-Leader and its attorney, Bryan Wade, began pressing the district to release minutes or votes from any meeting where the settlement was discussed, as well as the amount the district paid as part of the settlement.

Wade said discussions have continued between himself and the St. Louis-based attorney hired by the Republic district.

“The News-Leader only filed suit after it appeared those discussions had reached an impasse,” he said.

The district initially dismissed the girl’s claims as frivolous and forced the seventh-grade special education student to write a letter of apology to the boy and personally deliver it to him, according to the family’s lawsuit. She then was expelled for the rest of the school year and referred to juvenile authorities for filing a false report.

The girl was allowed back in school the following year, and the boy continued to harass and assault her, the suit said. She didn’t tell school officials because she was afraid she would be accused of lying and kicked out of school again, the suit claims.

She reported the boy raped her again in February 2010 in the back of the school library, but school officials expressed skepticism, the suit said. Her mother took her to the Child Advocacy Center, where an examination showed a sexual assault had occurred and DNA in semen found on the girl matched the DNA of the boy she accused.

Despite that finding, the school suspended the girl for disrespectful conduct and public display of affection, the suit said.

The boy was taken into custody and pleaded guilty in juvenile court to charges brought against him, the suit said, although it doesn’t specify the charges or punishment.

In News-Leader’s petition seeking details of the settlement, which was filed in Greene County court, the newspaper cites a portion of the state’s open records law that reads “the amount of any moneys paid by, or on behalf of, the public governmental body shall be disclosed.”

“That information was not provided, although we believe that the applicable Sunshine Law statute requires disclosures of the information for obvious reasons – the taxpayers have a right to know how the school is conducting its business,” Wade said.

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