Former CSAS Student Says In Federal Lawsuit That She Was Sexually Assaulted, Then Bullied

  • Sunday, December 4, 2022

A former student at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences (CSAS) says she was sexually assaulted and then bullied by the alleged perpetrator and other students at the school.

The parents of the student are suing the Hamilton County Schools and two CSAS administrators - James Boles and Carmen Veller - in behalf of the student, who is identified only as Jane Doe in the complaint.

The suit says she was a gifted student who regularly earned excellent grades. It says her parents were attracted to CSAS because of its academic reputation and opportunities.

Jane Doe entered CSAS as a 13-year-old seventh grade student in the fall of 2021. The suit says she was in a science class with a male student identified only as Jim Doe.

In the fall of 2021, Jim Doe was in the same science class as Jane Doe and he "began confronting and accosting Jane Doe with sexual threats and taunts," it was stated.

The suit says, "Jim Doe’s taunts and threats were unwelcomed by Jane Doe and made her uncomfortable." It says she complained about Jim Doe’s taunts and threats to her science teacher and they were passed on to Ms. Veller, the middle school principal.

It says in December 2021 during science class, "as Jane Doe leaned over a table to look at a science project, Jim Doe came behind her and put his hands on her hips and began to grind his genital area onto Jane Doe’s rear end before leaving the classroom and going to the boys bathroom at CSAS."

The action was during a science class in view of several students in the class, it was stated.

The suit says on Dec. 9, 2021, CSAS had a band concert on campus after school hours. The band concert was a voluntary activity to which all students as CSAS were invited. It was held in the CSAS auditorium and there were many staff members, faculty members, and students of CSAS in attendance.

The complaint states, "Jane Doe attended the band concert as did Jim Doe, who sat next to or near Jane Doe in the auditorium and asked if she wanted to have sex. Jane Doe considered Jim Doe’s question a joke and rejected it. Jim Doe invited Jane Doe to walk throughout the school that remained open both during and after the band concert. Jim Doe and Jane Doe began walking throughout the hallways of CSAS, the cafeteria and ended up going to the boiler room at CSAS. The door to the CSAS boiler room was unlocked.

"Once in the boiler room, Jim Doe verbally accosted Jane Doe and physically forced her to perform oral sex on him."

The suit says, "In the weeks after the Dec. 9, 2021 incident, Jim Doe and other students accosted and threatened Jane Doe with sexual taunts," including "You asked for it."

It says, "In response to being bullied, harassed and threatened by Jim Doe and others, Jane Doe hid in the bathroom, cried, and began missing classes." She reported the Dec. 9 incident to her science teacher on Jan. 12, writing an account of it after she "became overcome with emotion" and had difficulty talking about it.

On Jan. 12, 2022, Jane Doe approached science teacher Kalani Cannon and attempted to report to her what had occurred in the boiler room with Jim Doe on Dec. 9.

Ms. Veller was informed, but "took no immediate action," it was stated. She reviewed the school surveillance film of Dec. 9, which confirmed that Jim Doe and Jane Doe were walking through the hallways and the cafeteria and walking towards the boiler room on the night of the band concert. Ms. Veller called and filed a report with the Tennessee Department of Childrens Services.

Ms. Veller shared the note written by Jane Doe with Principal Boles, who reported the incident to School Resource Officer Deputy Josh Shirley stationed at CSAS. Deputy Shirley met with Mr. Boles and Ms. Veller and contacted Hamilton County law enforcement about a potential crime.

No one contacted the parents of Jane Doe, it was stated.

On Jan. 14, 2022, Detective Jason Maucere and Detective Danny Stone of the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office traveled to CSAS to meet with SRO Deputy Shirley, Mr. Boles and Ms. Veller. On the way to the school, Deputy Stone contacted Jane Doe's mother about the incident. Deputies Maucere and Stone met with SRO Shirley, Ms. Veller and science teacher Kalani Cannon about the events described by Jane Doe on Dec. 9, 2021.

The suit says, "Ms. Cannon described the sexual threats from Jim Doe that Jane Doe had complained about in December. Ms. Veller gave the deputies the note written by Jane Doe and given to Ms. Cannon.

"At some point that same day, (the mother) met with both Mr. Boles and Ms. Veller about what was going to be happening during the police investigation. Mr. Boles and Ms. Veller indicated that Jim Doe would be removed from any of Jane Doe’s classes and they would arrange for some type of escort to be with Jane Doe any time she was walking about in school.

"On or about Jan. 18, 2022, (the father) met with Mr. Boles and Ms. Veller at CSAS. Ms. Veller admitted that when she first learned of the incident through Ms. Cannon, she thought Jane Doe was lying and only after reviewing the surveillance tapes did she believe what Jane Doe had reported was possibly true. (The father) repeatedly asked why he was not called about the incident as he is the principal contact parent listed with CSAS. Neither Mr. Boles, nor Ms. Veller could give (the father) an answer.

"On Jan. 19, 2022, Jane Doe was called into and met with Mr. Boles and Ms. Veller at which time both suggested that as a woman Jane Doe should consider the impact her complaint was having on Jim Doe. After Jan. 14, 2022, Jim Doe was removed from Jane Doe’s science class.

"There was still contact between Jane Doe and Jim Doe during the mandatory lunch period in the CSAS cafeteria and during the mandatory daily movement period. During this time, Jim Doe would stare and glare at Jane Doe. When passing Jane Doe while in CSAS, Jim Doe would announce, 'Here’s the liar of the school.'

"Jim Doe would text Jane Doe using someone else’s phone in which he would berate and threaten her. Once Jim Doe left a written note in Jane Doe’s desk. After Jan. 14, 2022, the Dec. 9, 2021 event reported by Jane Doe became known to many other students at CSAS. Male and female students at CSAS during school hours and on campus repeatedly and verbally harassed Jane Doe about the Dec. 9, 2021 event. Male and female students frequently called Jane Doe a liar, a slut, whore, accused her of sleeping around with other people, and rumors were spread that Jane Doe was pregnant. Jane Doe received threatening text messages from other CSAS students.

"Some students when getting Jane Doe’s attention would demonstrate an oral sex hand expression. Other students would leave drawings for Jane Doe that demonstrated oral sex. Once when Jane Doe was walking down a stairway at CSAS, a student pushed her from behind causing her to fall down the stairs and she sustained injuries. Some students would shove, push or trip Jane Doe as she walked by.

"Jane Doe would describe what was going on at school to her parents, who relayed these problems to both Mr. Boles and Ms. Veller. (The mother) would take Jane Doe to school and would complain to Mr. Boles about what was happening with Jane Doe and asked what the school could do to protect her.

"On March 3, 2022, (the father) e-mailed Mr. Boles and reported how physically and emotionally uncomfortable Jane Doe was attending school at CSAS. On March 9, 2022, (the father) e-mailed Mr. Boles complaining of the ongoing harassment his daughter received from other seventh grade students. Mr. Boles responded that he would initiate a bully/harassment report and investigate. The verbal harassment that Jane Doe was receiving from other students at CSAS became so intense that her parents began checking her out of school during lunch time so that she would not have to appear with other grade students at the mandatory lunch period in the cafeteria.

"Mr. Boles and Ms. Veller were aware of the harassment Jane Doe experienced and did nothing to alleviate or stop the harassment and took no action to protect Jane Doe.

"Jim Doe was arrested for rape and attempted kidnapping and removed from CSAS on March 22, 2022. The harassment of Jane Doe from other CSAS students continued unabated. On March 23, 2022, James Boles e-mailed (the father) to inform him that the bully/harassment investigation was closed, saying 'there was not enough verifiable proof.' "

The suit says on the evening of March 27, 2022, Jane Doe "began having a psychological breakdown as a result of the unrelenting bullying and sexual harassment that she had been receiving from other students at CSAS." It says she took actions to try to harm herself and was taken to a hospital.

She afterward was able to complete the school semester from home, and her grades had diminished significantly from previous years, it was stated.

For the school semester of 2022-2023, the Hamilton County Board of Education offered Jane Doe and her parents to allow Jane Doe a safety transfer to another school. She enrolled in Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts (CSLA) for the Fall 2022 semester.

The complaint says, "While a student at CSLA, other students were aware of the Dec. 9, 2021 incident and began to bully, harass and threaten Jane Doe. Jane Doe complained of the bullying to a middle school counselor at CSLA who responded that 'boys will be boys.' Soon after, Jane Doe dropped out of CSLA and became home schooled.

The suit, that was filed by Nashville attorney Edmund J. Schmidt III, asks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

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