PONCA CITY, Okla. — A lawsuit filed against Ponca City Public Schools claims violations of Title IX after the district allegedly failed to investigate complaints of sexual assault on a school trip.
Attorney Paige Lee is representing the now high school sophomore and his mother who said he was assaulted by two now former students in June 2017 while at a camp near Tulsa for the varsity boys basketball team.
The incoming freshman was 14 years old at the time.
“My client was assigned a room, a hotel room at basketball camp with some other boys that were older, 17- and 18-year-old boys. Upon leaving the shower, he was held down forcibly by one boy and was assaulted by another boy,” Lee told News 4. “His towel was removed, and the other boy pulled his pants down and assaulted my client. It was incredibly difficult for my client to experience, and it was incredibly difficult for my client to retell.”
According to the lawsuit, school district officials conducted “virtually no investigation of the assault” once it was reported. It also states “the principal knew that an identical event occurred to other minors on the same trip by the same two perpetrators and failed to investigate it, as well.”
“It had escalated with my client this year, so it wasn’t quite as severe the year before. Through my investigation, I’ve determined that approximately seven years ago is the first time I’ve been able to find that it started,” Lee said. “I’m not sure what came of that, but certainly nothing that would have advised my client, my client’s mother, the basketball coach or the teammates that this was unacceptable behavior.”
Though Title IX is commonly associated with equality in sports, Lee said it allows for the protection of equality in education.
“The school has an obligation under, Title IX, to ensure that you’re protected not only from an actual assault while you’re in the school’s care and custody but also from ensuring that you’re not being unfairly treated after a sexual assault occurs,” she said. “There are so many things they didn’t follow, but the first thing I will start with, the first thing I would like to say is where was the Title IX coordinator in this process? Because it’s the Title IX coordinator that ensures a systematic problem doesn’t exist and makes sure all of our kids are safe."
The complaint also alleges "The Principal stated he would not initiate a Title IX investigation because IX does not to 'boy on boy' abuse" and district officials "made no changes to the educational environment to prevent future problems."
The lawsuit goes on to state the student endured continuing sexual harassment and retaliation throughout the 2017-2018 school year, which included: "taunting him, stalking him at his freshman football game, stalking him at events he attended that neither Defendant had a need to attend, using their friends to call Plaintiff a 'snitch.'"
"He [plaintiff] is a great and wonderful young man, and he will grow into a wonderful young man but this is not easy for him," Lee said. "This will make his life difficult. This is hard for him to have to relive this. It’s hard for him to have to go down the halls everyday and remember this. He has a hard time."
The case is calling for a trial by jury.
"Title IX is very unique as far as lawsuits go. Title IX allows for injunctive relief or what we would call change. Title IX actually allows for a plaintiff to get change by getting rules enacted that a school has to follow from that point forward," Lee said. "One of the things that my clients want is to make sure that the rules are followed, because they’re not here."
In a statement to News 4, Ponca City Public Schools superintendent Shelley Arrott released this statement:
“The Ponca City School District does everything it can to provide a safe learning environment for its students. Because of this, the District promptly investigates all allegations of sexual harassment and takes appropriate actions based on the results of the investigation. Since this lawsuit is ongoing, the School District cannot comment on the specific facts of this case. The School District can say that it is confident that once the facts come out in this lawsuit, that the court will find that the School District acted appropriately.”