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Feds: North West Hendricks schools violated Title IX in responses to sexual harassment complaints

District must take steps to come into compliance.
The North West Hendricks School Corporation administration building in Hendricks County
Posted at 5:00 AM, Oct 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-05 18:27:20-04

LIZTON — The North West Hendricks School Corporation violated Title IX, a federal law meant to keep your child safe in school, and must now make changes to how it handles sexual misconduct allegations.

That’s the findings just released from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) following a nearly two-year investigation.

The Federal Office for Civil Rights launched the probe back in 2019 after WRTV Investigates started looking into allegations the North West Hendricks School Corporation failed to properly address misconduct allegations.

Title IX is the 1972 federal civil rights law that bans sexual discrimination in education, best known for breaking down barriers for women in sports.

Title IX also requires K-12 schools to address reports of sexual misconduct, a process that is completely separate from the criminal process.

The Office for Civil Rights opened the Title IX investigation on December 4, 2019, according to the agency’s website, for “sexual harassment” and “retaliation” within the school district.

In its findings obtained by WRTV Investigates, the Office for Civil Rights said the school corporation failed to comply with Title IX in its responses to sexual harassment complaints.

“In particular, the corporation did not, when it became aware of a possible inappropriate relationship between the former coach and student A in spring 2019, promptly investigate to determine what occurred and then take appropriate steps to resolve the situation,” read the conclusion by OCR.

Although they’re not identified in the report, the Office for Civil Rights is talking about former teacher and coach Tyler Bruce and Stacy Lewis’ daughter, who was 16-years old at the time.

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"It was pretty frightening that all of those things I thought were true, were actually true,” said Lewis in response to OCR’s findings.

WRTV Investigates spoke with Lewis back in 2019 when she filed a tort claim notice against the district alleging they failed to protect her daughter.

OCR said in its report, “The corporation failed to conduct a prompt, thorough, and impartial inquiry of the alleged misconduct."

Bruce reached a plea agreement in which child seduction charges were dismissed.

The school district fired Bruce after he was criminally charged.

But the Office for Civil Rights found, “These actions were delayed during which time the former coach continued to sexually harass student A. In addition, the corporation did not inform student A or her parent of the outcome of any investigation, and the corporation provided insufficient documentation to show that it provided her or other parties with supportive services."

Lewis said she was not surprised by the feds’ findings.

“Documentation was something they struggled with throughout this process, and their Title IX experts were the ones involved in this case which is even more concerning,” said Lewis.

Lewis learned that her daughter was not the only one who expressed concerns.

OCR said the district had 11 incidents of possible harassment in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years.

“The incidents included a possible inappropriate relationship between a student and an employee, and possible retaliation toward corporation employees and against a parent who either attempted to address reports or expressed opinions about the relationship between the student and employee,” read the OCR’s findings.

OCR found in cases unrelated to Tyler Bruce, the district failed to take steps to prevent further harassment including by failing to separate students.

“It was really unfortunate that my daughter was not the only one who was in this type of situation,” said Lewis. “They found that all the things I said were happening and they were happening at a much broader level than I ever knew. Not only was it happening, but there wasn't any type of follow-up."

The Office for Civil Rights also expressed concerns the district did not adequately and accurately preserve records required by Title IX.

The OCR also had concerns that the former superintendent, Mike Springer, and former attendance officer, David Pyatt, were no longer employed with the district.

OCR said it suggests, “They may have been subjected to adverse actions for their protected activities of reporting and investigating the alleged harassment.”

The feds have not yet made a determination whether the district’s actions constituted retaliation, according to the findings.

David Pyatt said he is not surprised the U.S. Department of Education found North West Hendricks schools violated Title IX.

For more than a year, Pyatt has raised concerns about how the district handles sexual misconduct allegations.

“For me, it's vindication,” said Pyatt.

Pyatt reported the allegations involving Bruce to the Indiana Department of Child Services.

“The safest environment for students is when you listen to the students, and that was the biggest problem from the very beginning of all this was not listening,” said Pyatt. “The staff not listening to the students and taking their word and investigating it seriously."

As part of a five-page resolution agreement with the Office for Civil Rights, the school district has to make the following changes to comply with Title IX:

  • Develop and implement a system to preserve records maintained under Title IX
  • Provide training on the record-keeping system
  • Provide “effective training to all employees” on Title IX
  • Conduct surveys on the effectiveness of the training
  • For a period of two years, the district must provide to OCR copies of sexual harassment complaints, final reports, documentation of supportive measures provided and copies of final notices provided to the parties
  • Contact parents of current and former students who reported sexual harassment during the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years and invite them to share their concerns
  • Issue a letter to Stacy Lewis and her daughter by Oct. 1 about the resolution agreement and invite them to share their concerns

Lewis said she is open to sharing ideas.
“I'd like to start with getting the letter, which hasn't happened,” said Lewis. “If they were taking this seriously, the letter would have made it here before the deadline."

David Pyatt said the district needs to make changes to be safe for students.

“My two girls are in the school system, one just started middle school,” said Pyatt. “It means everything to me still. They validated that what I said was true, and that felt good. But at the same time, is anything really going to change after this?"

Tyler Bruce pleaded guilty in May 2021 to a misdemeanor charge of attempted obstruction of justice, and as part of the plea, prosecutors dismissed child seduction charges.

In addition to Bruce, the district fired two other employees for not properly addressing sexual misconduct allegations.

We reached out to the North West Hendricks School Corporation on Thursday for a response to OCR’s findings and we are still waiting to hear back.

If they do not comply with the agreement, they could risk losing federal funding.

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