Federal lawsuit: Union County school had reports of teacher sexually harassing student, did nothing for weeks

WATE 6 On Your Side staff - MAYNARDVILLE (WATE) - The mother of a student at Union County High School says the principal and vice-principal received multiple reports of abuse towards her daughter, but chose not to do anything for weeks.

The mother, Jodi Cheshire has filed a federal and state lawsuit against former Union County High School teacher Ray Lincoln Head, Union County Principal Linda Harrell and Vice Principal Carmen Murphy as well as the school system. Head was charged with three counts of sexual battery in May 2016. His personnel file says he verbally resigned on November 24, 2015.

"I'm just angry that this crawled into my school and how everybody has just hidden it," said Chesire.

In the federal Title IX lawsuit, Cheshire claims Principal Harrell and Vice Principal Murphy received reports by students and two teacher of inappropriate sexual advances by Head as early as September of 2015, but chose not to investigate the reports for weeks. She also says Harrell never contacted Tennessee Department of Children's Services as is required by law.

"I don't know what else to say other than who in their right mind would cover something like that up," said Chesire.

According to Cheshire, inappropriate touching starting the first week her daughter was enrolled in Head's geometry class. She says Head singled her out to sit in the front of class and touched her shoulders, neck and hair in class.

"When she tried to kill herself, that's when it really came home," said Chesire.

Two to three weeks into the semester, Cheshire said Head told her daughter the other girls were "jealous of her" because she was "beautiful and smart." She said he made other comments about the sexual nature of her body and brushed her daughter's hair, touching her inappropriately.

One month in to class, Cheshire said her daughter was returning from the restroom when Head blocked the entrance to the classroom and touched her inappropriately again. Soon after, she said Head told her she was "hot" and rubbed her shoulders, moving his hands up and down her back.

Cheshire says other students in class noticed the inappropriate touching of her daughter by Head. She said one of the students told another teacher about Head touching her daughter's body, making comments about her body and taking her drink off her desk and drinking it without permission.

"She went to school day after day and she didn't tell anybody because everyone knew," said Chesire.

The same teacher reported to Harrell and Murphy, according to the lawsuit. After the report, the lawsuit claims several students were called in to the office to share their observations. Once Harrell and Murphy were aware of the incident, the lawsuit claims they periodically spoke to students, but failed to do anything about the abuse.

In the middle of October of 2015, one month after Harrell and Murphy were alerted about the abuse, Cheshire says Harrell finally talked with the student about the abuse. The girl said she didn't want to talk about it, and the lawsuit claims Harrell immediately changed the subject of conversation and didn't address it further.

In the first half of November 2015, the lawsuit says a substitute teacher was teaching a class and several students told her about the harassment. The teacher told Harrell and according to Cheshire Harrell called the student to her office and asked her if she wanted to file a criminal complaint or just "let it die." The lawsuit says the student agreed to "let it die."

On November 9, 2015, the lawsuit says Harrell started an internal investigation, Cheshire said she didn't receive a call until November 13, 2015. She says Harrell told her that Head had groped her daughter and that she had received 30 reports about it. She said she called law enforcement to make a complaint and someone from law enforcement called the Tennessee Department of Children's Services.

Cheshire is asking for up to eight million dollars in the federal lawsuit. Aside from Title IX violations, Cheshire says the school was negligent in even hiring Head and should not have hired him based on his "inappropriate and bizarre behavior at previous schools." Heads personnel file with Union County Schools showed he worked at 10 different schools from 1996-2014.

"Be responsible for the people they have in front of our children, touching our children and playing sports with our children. It's not too much to ask," said Chesire.

WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to the Union County School system for comment, but have not received a reply.

State probe into handling of teacher allegations

The State Board of Education is starting its own investigation into Union County Schools. This is happening after WATE 6 On Your Side reached to them to find out more about former teacher Ray Head. WATE 6 On Your Side learned Thursday that Union County High School knew in October about Ray Head having a similar situation at another school. Several viewers reached out saying it happened at some other school districts. Maury County, Rhea County and Hickman County came up.

The Director of Schools in Rhea County says Head resigned for financial reasons. He says no reports of inappropriate behavior were filed. The other districts have not returned our calls.

WATE 6 On Your Side then checked with the State Board of Education.

"The state has no record of disciplinary action from Union County or his prior employers," said Philip Cramer, a staff attorney.

Cramer says school districts are supposed to notify them within 30 days after a teacher resigns.

"If they resigned following allegations of misconduct, that needs to be reported," said Cramer.

However, the state didn't get a report from Union County. After WATE 6 On Your Side contacted Cramer, he says he will now investigate how Union County Schools handled the situation.

"I've also taken a look at his history to see what other systems I might need to contact and find out if there is disciplinary action in those systems as well," said Cramer.

Cramer is also asking the State Board of Education to place a flag on Head's teacher license. This would alert other school systems of potential problems.

"They wouldn't have the option of denying it," said Cramer.

A spokesperson says they were notified of the situation in mid-November. This is around the same time as Ray Head's resignation but weeks after the initial allegations were reported to school administrators. Their investigation is finished but they would not tell WATE 6 On Your Side the findings.

Head's court date was reset for December 5.

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