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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: More concerns in Huntsville

by Mike Masterson | October 9, 2021 at 3:42 a.m.

Leave it to Fort Smith's fearless bulldog Joey McCutchen to be the attorney to file a Title IX-related action in federal court against the Huntsville School District. I surely wouldn't want this barrister's legal chops locked around my ankle.

The action filed last month alleges the district failed to respond to locker-room sexual assaults by some junior high basketball players that occurred in the boy's locker room at games for at least two years.

Specifically, McCutchen's suit claims the district allegedly displayed "deliberate indifference and actual knowledge of sexual assaults of multiple students and its failure to promptly and properly investigate reports of sexual assault." At least 17 youths allegedly were victimized.

The district's attorney last week filed a response claiming it was innocent of inaction in the scandal primarily because the abuses "occurred at the hands of third parties whose actions or liability cannot be imputed" to the Huntsville School District.

Perhaps. However, while the district members certainly didn't participate in these abuses, I question whether they, living in such a tight-knit community of friends, relatives and neighbors, should have known and intervened.

As previously written, the abuses involved members of the ninth-grade boys' basketball team engaging in what were called "baptisms" and "bean-dippings." McCutchen said "baptism" refers to basketball players restraining other students while other players placed their genitals on or in the faces of the restrained students.

"Bean-dipping" is equally repulsive, referring to a student forcibly placing his anus on the face and particularly the nose of another. Several children were repeatedly assaulted, with at least one student reportedly abused 14 times.

Some in the school's administration, including the basketball coach, had been informed by at least one parent, the suit also contends.

So it wasn't as if at least some powers-that-be in the Huntsville junior high school were ignorant of what had been transpiring, the lawsuit says, particularly since a student notified former Huntsville Middle School basketball coach Kaleb Houston about what was happening around October 2020.

The parent of a player on the Huntsville Middle School team also sent a text message to Coach Houston notifying him of the baptisms and bean-dippings. Yet Houston failed to take corrective action or report the matter to school administrators or the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline, as required by Arkansas law, McCutchen's suit alleged.

Based on the district's claim of innocence, we must assume the coach (or his staff or district parents) also never informed one or more higher-level officials in the relatively small district.

Houston resigned Aug. 2, 2021, after the assaults were formally reported to the district and an investigation was underway. "Before his resignation, but after the formal investigation had already started, Coach Houston was permitted to conduct interviews of the students involved despite having actual knowledge of the sexual assaults before the formal report had been made," McCutchen said.

McCutchen previously filed a successful complaint against the Huntsville District and Huntsville Public Schools' Board of Education for violating Arkansas' Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

That lawsuit arose after it was discovered the board held a meeting to consider disciplinary action against the perpetrators of the sexual assaults without giving notice to the media or maintaining a record of that meeting, as required by law.

After a subsequent appeal in the assault matter, the board reduced the punishment for the two students directly involved from one year to one semester expulsion with virtual learning. Students involved in forcibly restraining students so that they could be assaulted received no punishment, the suit argues, adding that at least two students involved have parents who work for the Huntsville District, and one board member is related to one of the youths.

The allegations in McCutchen's suit held few punches: "The Huntsville District had knowledge these children were being sexually assaulted and did nothing. The investigations and punishments were conducted by people with obvious conflicts of interest. The result was that the perpetrators either received no meaningful punishment or no punishment at all. This creates a hostile educational environment for all students because these perpetrators are now back in school and playing sports like nothing ever happened."

"We should be able to trust that our children are being protected from sexual assault in our public schools. The entire Huntsville School District has betrayed the trust of children and their families and they need to be held accountable."

So now that both the allegations and denials are on record, we shall wait patiently to see how this all plays out in federal court.

The 'Pandora Papers'

In case you missed the groundbreaking investigative series about the ultra-rich around the globe using offshore accounts to preserve and enhance their wealth, I call it to your attention as an example of what First Amendment journalism should (and could be) if those directing many of the print and broadcast newsrooms across America were committed to their responsibilities to the American public.

The well-documented "Pandora Papers" as reported by members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists reveal the innermost machinery of what they call a shadow economy benefiting the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of everyone without their enormous financial resources. You can catch up on their findings through their website icij.org.

The Pandora Papers truly opened a Pandora's Box into how an extra-legal, deliberately hidden financial system grew into a global behemoth siphoning trillions from public treasuries, worsening wealth disparities and protecting those with enormous financial holdings who cheat and steal.

To keep my position straight, I don't begrudge anyone who accumulates wealth legitimately. More power to them if they have the energy, ability and gumption to legally earn a nest egg for themselves and their families.

It's greedy politicos, shysters, crooks and the unscrupulous who give me painful gas attacks: those who'll do anything to acquire and shelter $10 billion rather than settling for the millions they have.

Stories by some 600 consortium reporters from media outlets in 117 countries reveal how hundreds of politicians (including 35 current and former world leaders) are connected to offshore companies detailed in facts.

You may recall those vital things we call facts as once having been far more crucial to our understanding and critical thought than the subjective, partisan, sometimes fabricated philosophy now being peddled as legitimate journalism even by some journalism schools promoting the radical left's nonsensical "wokeism" over truth and objectivity.

This week the consortium published the first of what it says will be many revelations to come in weeks and months ahead. Its editors say governments worldwide already have vowed to investigate these findings and begin enforcing the laws.

How novel, to enforce laws even on the wealthy and politically influential who sway public policies through fat political contributions the rest of us can't afford.

As with everyone nowadays from "public servant" politicians and politics itself to nonprofit organizations, the ICIJ relies on financial help to maintain its invaluable work of holding truth to power.

I can assure you after decades of investigative reporting experience at some of the nation's largest daily newspapers, such time-consuming digging for facts requires organizational commitment, including sufficient resources.

As late as the 1990s, most major U.S. newspapers supported aggressive and objective investigative reporting teams whose work was not only effective but widely influential. Then those valuable teams fell from favor with corporate owners.

Today, most news organizations are no longer published not by traditional journalist-oriented publishers (think Walter Hussman at this paper) but rather by well-compensated corporate shills who too often befriend and financially reward those whose questionable practices might deserve close examination in the public interest.

Visit the ICIJ website and see their remarkable work for yourself, then decide if you believe the objective reporting is worth your support. I've already sent what limited contribution I can afford.

Sending C.W.'s CD

Thanks again to those who asked for my free CD, "Rhythms of Life from a Southern Journalist," containing 14 of my favorite timeless columns.

Unfortunately, I got one back with an insufficient address. So if C.W. Bede II of Fort Smith would send an email with his current address, I'll gladly resend.

Meanwhile, I still have a dozen CDs left. One can be yours by sending $5 to cover expenses to 1002 West Bunn Ave., Harrison, Ark. 72601.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Print Headline: More concerns in Huntsville

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