The Huntsville School District says it’s not liable for sexual assaults that took place in its locker rooms and that any legal actions should be directed at third parties, according to a pleading filed Monday by the district’s attorney, Charles Harwell. 

The district was responding to a lawsuit filed Sept. 10 in federal court by a parent who said her son had been sexually harassed and assaulted by his Huntsville Junior High School basketball teammates. The parent contends that the Huntsville School District knew the assaults were taking place, but failed to promptly and properly investigate or stop them. 

The lawsuit also contends the district created a hostile educational environment thereby violating Title IX by placing those who had allegedly been sexually harassed and assaulted in the same classrooms with their assaulters, some who faced no punishment, which caused the victims to be fearful of retaliation and retribution.

In its Monday filing, the district asked the court to strike the “impertinent, immaterial and scandalous portions” of the lawsuit, to place the pleadings under seal, to require all hearings to be closed, and deny any relief to the parent. The district also asked the court to dismiss the case and for the parent to pay the district’s attorneys’ fees. 

For two years, junior high basketball players were alleged to have sexually assaulted teammates. According to the district’s Title IX investigatory reports, “baptizing” occurred when players physically restrained teammates while other players undressed and placed their bare genitals in or on the restrained players’ faces. “Bean-dipping” occurred when players placed their rectum on another player’s face or nose. The incidents happened multiple times to several players over the span of two basketball seasons. One student confessed he was “baptized” or “bean-dipped” 14 times, suffering both acts on the same night. Students who were baptized told The Record that they suffered physical injuries and ongoing nightmares. 

Some students who participated in “baptizing” during the 2020-21 season had also been “baptized,” during the 2019-2020 season. 

Allegations of sexual assaults were reported to the district Feb. 9, an investigation began Feb. 22, and the school board held an expulsion hearing on May 3. At that hearing, the board accepted decisions-makers’ recommendations of one-year expulsions for two students, who admitted “baptizing” teammates. However, at appeals’ hearings beginning May 19, the board shortened the expulsions from one year to one semester. At the same hearings, the board threw out completely punishment for students alleged to have physically restrained players being “baptized” or “bean-dipped.” Those students continue to play sports, participate in practices, and volunteered during summer peewee sports’ camps. 

Title IX protects students from discrimination based on sex in educational programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Huntsville School District receives federal funding.  Sexual harassment under Title IX includes sexual assault, according to the department of education. 

The district also denied in its response that Junior High School Coach Kaleb Houston, who resigned Aug. 2, days before the beginning of the school year, but after summer practices had begun, was notified of the allegations and failed to act on them, including calling the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline as required by law. A parent and a student had alerted Houston to what was taking place in the locker rooms, according to the lawsuit. 

“I had no idea that any of that was going on in the locker room,” Houston said in a text to The Record

The district also stated that the lawsuit should have been filed under seal to protect all students involved. “To use initials in a public filing when referring to students who are a members (sic) of a finite and small number of students, such as a boys’ basketball team in a small community like Huntsville, inappropriately and unlawfully violates the right of privacy of those students, all of whom are minors,” Harwell wrote. 

The district said it had information pertaining to the allegations but because the allegations are not under seal, it’s impossible for it to respond without violating the Family Educational Records and Privacy Act, which protects student records, and the Arkansas Maltreatment Act, as well as students’ right to privacy.

The district also stated it cannot reveal any information regarding any Title IX investigations that remain ongoing. The district is currently investigating students who were alleged to have “baptized” and “bean-dipped” their teammates during the 2019-2020 season. That Title IX investigatory report, along with correspondence from players’ attorneys, was sent to the decision maker, Brian Hogue, at the end of August. Hogue is charged with recommending punishment for the students involved in the ongoing Title IX investigation. 

Neither Harwell nor Huntsville School Superintendent Audra Kimball responded to a request for comments.