Two significant decisions in the Huntsville School District’s ongoing Title IX saga were handed down last week. 

A decision maker’s recommendation that three players being investigated for allegedly sexually abusing their teammates should not be punished by the board essentially brought an end to the months’ long investigation. 

Also last week, a U.S. district judge ruled against the Huntsville School District’s motion for a gag order and motion to seal any proceedings in a Title IX lawsuit stemming from those sexual assault allegations brought against the district by a parent whose child was a victim.

These two rulings collided last week. We’re thankful for the judge’s denial of the district’s motion for a gag order and the court’s refusal to seal the case in its entirety. The Record is able to more effectively report on the allegations, allowing us to do our job of holding government officials accountable, including district administrators and board members because of that decision.

If the school district had its way, The Record would have not been allowed to report on the allegations at all.

We find the lack of the district’s transparency in this matter disturbing. All government and school officials deserve to be held accountable. The public has a right to know how the people paid with taxpayer money conduct themselves and perform their jobs. But, of all institutions, those charged with keeping our children safe need to be held to the highest standards. 

These allegations of sexual assault were brought to The Record’s attention by parents – including those of victims. We received multiple reports from multiple people. 

The district has tried to coverup the allegations throughout the investigations, first by holding expulsion hearings without notifying the press, then by refusing to answer questions, such as when the Child Abuse Hotline was called. 

We’ve been told it was not called “immediately” as required by law.

When the allegations of sexual abuse were brought to our attention, we reached out to Superintendent Audra Kimball. At that time, she told us she didn’t expect us to report on student discipline. 

Recently, Witter resident Benjamin Rightsell won a lawsuit against the district in Madison County Circuit Court for those open-meeting violations. The district admitted to the violations and has been enjoined by the court from further violating the Freedom of Information Act.

We were glad to see the district admit their mistakes in response to Rightsell’s lawsuit. But what we didn’t expect was for the district and its attorneys to double down against transparency by filing its motion for a gag order and to seal the proceedings in the federal Title IX lawsuit, claiming that it was doing so in order to protect the victims and the students privacy and to not taint a potential jury pool. 

Imagine telling a victim that you can’t tell your story, you’re not allowed to talk about being sexually abused, going against part of the healing process for victims of sexual abuse. Is that prioritizing the victims’ needs or the district’s and administrator’s needs of not looking bad to the public at large?

That’s the sad part, the district used the argument that it was trying to protect the victims’ privacy to stop publicity. The district argued “the right of the children and their families to privacy, peace and an opportunity to heal” outweighs the public’s right to know. The falsity in that argument is The Record had multiple victims coming to us to tell their stories, saying that the district and the school board members were ignoring them. 

No board member or administrator that we know of has reached out to victims to express their apologies for what took place under their watch in the locker rooms. None of them deny that alleged sexual abuse happened to multiple players, multiple times for two years. 

What the district should have done was protect those students who were abused for two years, not try to stop them from telling their stories. 

In various text messages exchanged between Kimball and school board members, we don’t see a lot of concern for the victims.  Rather those text messages express more concern as to how the public perceives the administrators and the board members. So far, no administrator, coach or district employee has been held accountable for their actions or inactions.

The board has been told by the district’s attorneys not to comment on the case, essentially imposing their own gag order. 

We’re thankful that the court didn’t allow the district to essentially expand its self-imposed gag order and effectively silence the victims. 

Transparency is important. Patrons of the district and Madison County citizens have a right to know that for two years, players were sexually abused by teammates multiple times on multiple occasions on school property. The district should be forthright about what happened in the locker room and not try to hide behind a gag order. Be honest and transparent, apologize to the victims and allow the victims to be heard and have their time to heal rather than worrying about the optics of the case and what the public thinks about administrators or board members. 

The district and the board failed the victims in these investigations. But rather than hiding behind a gag order, board members and administrators should acknowledge what happened and work to let parents know what they are going to do to make sure sexual abuse doesn’t happen again.