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Northwest Arkansas school district disregarded athletes' sexual abuse of students, federal lawsuit charges

by Ron Wood | September 11, 2021 at 3:46 a.m.
A sign labeling it as the "Crossroads of the Ozarks," welcomes visitors to Huntsville in Madison County. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette FILE PHOTO)

FAYETTEVILLE -- The mother of a Huntsville School District student has sued the district in federal court, saying it knew students were sexually harassed and assaulted but did little to stop it.

The lawsuit was filed Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Fayetteville by Rebecca Nelle on behalf of her child, identified as B.N.

The complaint alleges federal Title IX violations arising from deliberate indifference to and actual knowledge of sexual harassment and sexual assault of multiple students; the district's failure to promptly and properly investigate reports of sexual harassment; and claims a hostile education environment was created that denied B.N. and other students access to educational opportunities.

"In fact, the Defendant forced B.N. and other children who were sexually assaulted to go back to class without any punishment on their abusers causing those that were sexually assaulted to be fearful of retaliation and retribution," according to the lawsuit.

According to a news release from the lawyers, the sexual assaults involved members of the freshmen boys' basketball team engaging in what was called "baptism" and "bean-dipping."

"Baptism" refers to basketball players restraining students while other players placed their genitals on or in the faces of the restrained students. "Bean-dipping" refers to a student forcibly placing their rectum and anus on the face and particularly the nose of another.

"The Huntsville School District had knowledge that these children were being sexually assaulted and did nothing. The investigations and punishments were conducted by people with obvious conflicts of interest," McCutchen said in the news release. "The result was that the perpetrators either received no meaningful punishment or no punishment at all. "

The lawsuit claims middle school basketball coach Kaleb Houston was told about the abuses in October but took no action to report the actions to his superiors.

B.N., according to the lawsuit, was abused on 14 occasions while being held down against his will by older basketball players at the school. He was then threatened if he told school authorities or his parents of the abuse.

According to the lawsuit, at least 17 middle or high school players were victimized and at least one student paid another student not to abuse him, according to the lawsuit.

At least two of the perpetrators have parents that work for the district, and one of the school board members is related to a perpetrator, according to the news release.

Two students who held others down received no punishment, according to the lawsuit. Two others were given one year expulsions, but those were reduced to a semester each with online learning, according to the lawsuit.

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The lawsuit contends B.N. was sexually harassed after the district had knowledge older players were assaulting and harassing younger players.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, to be determined at trial, for physical harm, grief and emotional harm.

Print Headline: Mom sues school over sex assaults

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