Mingo County school officials have agreed to reassign administrators and teachers who allegedly threatened disciplinary action against girls who reported being sexually abused or assaulted by male classmates, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey reports.
Morrisey said the district agreed to the changes stipulated in Senior Status Judge John L. Cumming’s preliminary injunction, including immediate assignment of a “designated professional” from outside Burch Middle School to supervise students and staff for the remainder of the school year.
The order states that the Mingo County Board of Education “has taken non-disciplinary personnel action to place certain employees on leave during the investigation, while others have left the school for ‘non-related reasons.’”
It also requires school officials to return one of the girls who had been forced to switch classes to her age-appropriate class, and stipulates that the girls “will be protected from having to face those who are accused of abusing them at school,” Morrisey said.
The order prohibits all of the defendants from having direct or indirect contact with any of the girls or their families, and specifies that if the school determines that discipline is required, “that discipline must be performed by some other administrator or employee who is not named as a defendant,” Morrisey said.
The order also requires the school district to report any and all reports, allegations, or complaints of sexual abuse and sexual assault that have been made during the past five years at Burch Middle School to the Attorney General’s Office and West Virginia State Police, and that all future reports of suspected child abuse and neglect be reported to the Department of Health and Human Resources, and if needed, the State Police.
“Our office is pleased that our Civil Rights Division has been able to step in and protect these girls and bring light to a very troubling situation,” Morrisey said. “Our office will continue its investigation into this situation.”
Morrisey said Cumming’s order opens the door to a full and complete investigation into the alleged sexual abuse at the school.
“Through this Agreed Order of Preliminary Injunction, the Attorney General’s Office has been successful in opening the way for a full and complete investigation into the alleged sexual abuse of students at Burch Middle School as detailed in the Complaint for Injunctive Relief previously filed in the Circuit Court of Mingo County,” Morrisey said.
Morrisey petitioned the court May 8 for a civil rights injunction to protect the girls, who claim they were subjected to repeated incidents of sexual abuse and assaults by two boys allegedly related to board employees, then threatened by school administrators and employees with disciplinary action when they reported the alleged abuse.
Morrisey’s May 8 petition alleged the girls were subjected to “repeated incidents of sexual abuse and/or sexual assault,” described as non-consensual fondling, groping and molestation occurring on school grounds, school buses and on field trips. It alleged school officials failed to report or properly investigate the allegations, pointing out the alleged perpetrators had “avoided criminal investigation ,prosecution or meaningful punishment due to the actions and conduct of the administrators and teachers at Burch Middle School and the Mingo County Board of Education.”It also suggested one of the alleged perpetrators is a relative of an employee of the Board of Education “who actively participated” in the school’s internal response to the allegations, and that school administrators actively downplayed the seriousness of the allegations to the parents of the girls, failed to return calls or supply them with copies of their child’s initial statement to school personnel and denied troopers investigating the allegations access to students in school.
Specifically named as defendants in the 32-page complaint were Burch Middle School Principal Melissa Webb, Burch Middle School Vice Principal Deanna Maynard, Guidance Counselor Hester Keatley, teacher and athletic coach Melvin Cunningham, Mingo County Schools Superintendent Randy Keatley, the Mingo County Board of Education, a student listed as Juvenile 1, the mother and father of Juvenile 1, a student listed as Juvenile 2 and the mother and father of Juvenile 2.