Following comments from Huntsville School District Board President Danny Thomas applauding the board for its handling of a Title IX sexual harassment/sexual assault investigation, parents erupted at Monday night’s board meeting, yelling at board members that they did nothing, failing to protect the students.

“You should be ashamed of every single one of yourselves,” a victim’s relative in the Title IX investigation yelled at board members after the meeting adjourned and after Thomas informed people waiting to speak that they would be prohibited because they were not on the meeting’s agenda, and therefore could not be recognized for comments.

Victims’ families’ outrage was an immediate response to Thomas’ remarks encouraging community members to run for school board seats if they disagreed with its actions.

 “I’m going to say that I’m very proud of this board and this community and this faculty and this staff,” Thomas stated to the media and others in attendance. “And there’s not a single person on this board that doesn’t donate hours of their time to what we try to do, feel like is the best for this community and this district and this staff and these kids,” he said.

“So that being said, we also support our superintendent because no one’s worked harder through some of these difficult times that we’ve had more than Audra Kimball. And to see, some of the negative stuff that we have had to deal with, all of us, as board members, staff, superintendent has been very disheartening, to say the least, especially whenever we do the best that we can with what we have to work with.

“So everybody is entitled to their own opinions,” Thomas continued. “My opinion is not to take a shot to the eye and just walk away from it without saying anything. I’m gonna have something to say if I get a black eye,” Thomas said.

“Come March of next year, if anybody feels that they can do a better job than what we do, they’re more than welcome to feel free to sign up and everything. But we do the best we can and I’m proud of our staff. I’m proud of our school board and I’m proud of our district,” Thomas repeated.

Because of redistricting, every school board member’s seat will be on the ballot for re-election in 2022. Next year’s school board election will be held in May due to it being a gubernatorial election year. The filing period begins near the end of February.

Longtime Huntsville School Board member Duane Glenn encouraged people to run for school board. “There’s an election coming up. You know when election comes up, and I’ve encouraged this for people over the years. … You know, instead of getting on social media, and you’re sitting behind the keyboard there, and some people that’s all they get done in a day. You have that opportunity to run,” Glenn said.

“It’s not like it’s a paying job. … The thing about it, they can run. They don’t have to worry about going into a different tax bracket or whatever. They can still get their check because it pays nothing,” Glenn said. 

“If you want to help and do something positive, run and do that,” he said. 


Title IX Investigation


Emotions at the meeting were running high after a story published in The Record last week uncovered the board’s lessening of the suggested punishment for two students and completely tossing out the punishment for three students in the Title IX investigation.

The investigation stemmed from allegations that some junior high boys basketball players would “baptize” other players. According to multiple reports, both written and verbal, voluntarily provided to The Record by multiple people, the act of “baptizing” occurred when several players restrained other teammates, mostly younger players, while other players undressed and then placed certain exposed private body parts in or on the restrained players’ faces. 

Two players admitted the accusations and also placed blame on a player now on the senior-high team for having conducted the same act to them a year prior. The investigation stated that two students admitted to both holding down teammates and placing certain exposed private body parts in or on the faces of players who were restrained.

According to the parent of one of the students, who was a victim, the incidents happened multiple times to several players. Some players were “baptized” more than 10 times. One student was held down by three students, while two others “baptized” him.

In addition, another parent told The Record that their son had told them that after a game, the older boys stood in front of the locker room doors to prevent other players from leaving, scared younger players would run to and hide in the locker room showers, the lights would go off and when the lights came back on, a player who had been “baptized” would be lying on the floor crying.

The Record has chosen not to identify any of the students involved and to protect their identities by protecting the identities of their parent or guardian.

At a special school board meeting on May 19 that lasted into the early morning hours of May 20, the school board heard testimony from students appealing the recommendations of Decision Makers. 

During the appeals hearings, the board was presented letters from victims of sexual harassment/sexual assault stating the damaging effects the actions of being “baptized” had on them. 

Despite the evidence presented in the investigative report and letters from the victims, the school board determined that the evidence was not sufficient enough to uphold the recommended punishment, or in some cases punishment at all. 

At the appeals meeting, the board reversed its initial decision of expelling the two students for one year by shortening the expulsions to half that to one semester.

The board also reversed the punishment of five days of out-of-school suspension, which was initially given for three students, by no longer requiring them to participate in Arkansas Athletic Association Conduct Training and Title IX Bullying and Sexual Harassment training.

The three students whose out-of-school suspension was reversed are not currently being punished for their actions in “baptizing” in any capacity on behalf of the school board. 


Family Reaction 


One parent stated after the school board meeting on Monday that her son was a victim.

She explained the motivation fueling her attempt to speak to school board members, stating, “I just felt like we were sitting in the backroom listening to it from the conference room and listening to him [Thomas] talking about how hard they’ve all worked and how much time they put in, so proud of everybody and that [Huntsville School District Superintendent] Ms. [Audra] Kimball was getting all this hate on, you know, social media and, you know, he didn’t appreciate that, whatever. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Like your feelings are hurt over this? And that’s enough to bring up the board meeting, but Lord forbid, a mother or a child who was a part of this speaks up about anything.”

Another attendee said she wished the board members would have done more for the parent. “They didn’t do anything for her. She had to bust in there and say something. They didn’t even give her a chance to talk ... They wouldn’t even look at her. They, actually, like, sat there and would not look at her,” she said. Because of the school board’s actions, the parent of the victim is removing her son from the district. 

“I just want them to think about the words that they’re using, the things that they’re saying, and how absolutely inappropriate that was that they’re proud of themselves and hurt over some bad social media,” a parent said. “And I think that it’s a shame that I have to come out. I have to come out and say something where my son is a victim. It’s going to out him in a very small community to try and make the adults be accountable,” she said. 

After the board meeting, Glenn said, “Some of this stuff that’s coming out, I’m not saying a parent’s not telling the truth. I’m not, any of that. But, for example, the two women who come in and said this happened in the locker room, this happened to my kid. OK, ma’am, that’s the first time we ever heard that,” Glenn said. 

Glenn said if more victim stories come out, he personally would not have a problem revisiting the issues in the first investigation. “But, it goes back to legal issues and I mean … if it gets to the point where nothing can be done, we have to make sure in the future that these kids is safe,” Glenn said. 

Glenn said the board is limited in how they can handle the investigation and speaking to members of the community. 

“I can’t take off and go to Granny’s [Kitchen] tomorrow and see someone sitting there and say, ‘Hey, did this kid do this to your kid?’ This matter is very, as far as, putting kids names out there or embarrassing them, I’m not doing that,” he said. “It’s not my place to go investigate. I hope we have people in place that does that and they bring us that information and we base our decision off of that, which we did,” Glenn said.

“Now, I can’t say that I’m not curious about some of this other stuff. Stuff that has come up that I haven’t heard,” Glenn stated.

“I think there’s more to this than what was brought to the table for us. And, I feel like it’s not from the school side about doing something incorrectly. I think it’s from the parents and the kids not telling. And that’s where I see this big problem with communication.

“Like I told somebody, I said, ‘The public, the teachers, the kids, everybody knows more about this than what the school board does.’ Because when we come here, we see that stuff, but as far as being out somewhere, you don’t discuss that stuff with people. You know, you just don’t do it. … If you get into investigation or whatever, you’re in trouble. You hurt the case,” Glenn said. 

“I don’t want to sit here and slam these kids and these parents who went through this. They’ve been through enough,” Glenn said. 

“I think there’s more out there, whether they come back later, I think some of these parents and kids are opening up more now and they didn’t tell that stuff,” he said.

Glenn said he was surprised by the comments made after the board meeting. 

“Yes, but she may have told her family and may have told all of her friends and they all know about it, but that doesn’t mean we do.  … We didn’t know it. I agree with Danny. I honestly believe that [board members] want what is best for the kids,” he said. 

Glenn also said the district has offered counseling services to those involved in the investigation. A parent told The Record that no counseling services were offered but Glenn said, “It’s false” that no counseling services were offered.  

Relatives with students in the district who voiced their concerns about the Title IX investigation also attended the meeting to witness the board’s discussion. Some asked not to be identified. One attendee who has a child in third grade said, “I don’t feel safe anymore with my kid in their care.”

One woman said she was a sexual assault survivor, and she wanted to show her support for the victims.

“And as somebody who has been sexually assaulted before, that’s gonna mess with them later on because I am 27 and that happened when I was 14 – the same age as half of these kids are that have had this done.”

People before and after the board meeting expressed concern that the board members showed little remorse. 

However, Glenn stated, “I can’t speak for as far as Danny or what his intentions when he said that. I don’t think he meant anything bad. As far as me, I can speak. And as a school board member, I do feel remorse for those kids.” 


State Hotline Contacted


After a formal complaint in a Title IX sexual harassment/sexual assault complaint was filed, Kimball said she notified the Department of Human Services by contacting the Child Abuse Hotline. A formal complaint in the case was filed on Feb. 25, though Kimball did not specify a date that she called the hotline. Kimball stated last week that she was not aware of the opening of a criminal case into the allegations.

When asked for comment about what happened in the locker rooms, Kimball said, “Due to the privacy of students when there is a Title IX investigation, this district is never able to comment.”

According to Arkansas law, teachers, school officials, law enforcement officials, public and private school counselors, school officials are considered mandated reporters, meaning they are required by law to notify the abuse hotline if he or she suspects a child has suffered child maltreatment.

Under Arkansas law, child maltreatment includes sexual abuse, “By a person 14 years of age or older to a person younger than 18 years of age: sexual contact by forcible compulsion, indecent exposure.” Reports to the hotline “must be made immediately.”  Anyone may call the hotline at 1-800-482-5964 to report suspected child abuse or maltreatment.

One parent told The Record that they had called the State Police Child Abuse Hotline, DHS and the school resource officer. The parent additionally contacted Madison County Sheriff Rick Evans, who told them the school was handling the allegations because the case fell under Title IX provisions.

According to Bill Sadler, a spokesperson with the Arkansas State Police (ASP), a criminal investigation has not been opened in the case, and neither the Madison County Sheriff’s Office nor the Huntsville Police Department has requested the opening of a criminal investigation. However, Sadler said the law prohibits him from stating whether or not a child maltreatment case arising from a hotline report has been opened. 

“I’ve met with the commander of the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigation Division,” Sadler said. “Special Agents assigned to the division have not opened an investigation, nor has [there] been a request for such an investigation forwarded to the division from either of the local law enforcement jurisdictions.”

However, Sadler noted that the Crimes Against Children Division (CACD) and the criminal investigation division are two divisions of the ASP and have distinctly different investigative authorities.

“While there are provisions to confirm particular criminal investigations under Title 5 of Arkansas Code Annotated that may be underway by Special Agents of the Criminal Investigation Division, ACA § 12-18-104 prohibits the acknowledgment of any report that may (emphasis on may) have been received by the Crimes Against Children Division child maltreatment hotline or any maltreatment investigation arising from a hotline report,” Sadler said in an email. 

“Maltreatment investigations by non-commissioned/civilian CACD investigators are not considered criminal investigation,” Sadler said in an email.

Previously, when asked if a criminal investigation was being conducted, Evans said, “the school’s handling it.” He said that if a criminal complaint is filed, “I’ll get with the prosecutor and go from there.”

Evans did not return multiple phone calls or text messages this week asking for comments or updates on the allegations and the sheriff’s office’s handling of the Title IX investigation.


Huntsville City Police


Huntsville Chief of Police Todd Thomas said his office has not been formally notified concerning the allegations, but if someone were to file a complaint, his office would work with the ASP in an investigation.

“So, no, we were never formally contacted by anyone, and it was our understanding that the Madison County Sheriff Office SRO was investigating it,” Todd Thomas said.

“If someone tells me that another agency is working it, then I just assume that’s what’s going on,” Todd Thomas stated.

The Title IX report, which was sent to the parents of students involved in the allegations, notes that the SRO was notified of the allegations. 

Todd Thomas said if someone had reached out to him about opening an investigation into the allegations, he would have called the ASP. Rather than formally leading the investigation, his department would have assisted.

“I’ll be honest with you, everybody knows that Danny is my brother. I would not have even taken the case,” Todd Thomas said. Huntsville School Board President Danny Thomas, Todd Thomas’ brother, led the expulsion hearings concerning the allegations, as well as voted on the resulting punishment. At the first expulsion hearing, in which the school board violated the Freedom of Information Act by not notifying the press of the meeting, Danny Thomas voted to expel two students for one year and voted for out-of-school suspension for three students for their participation in “baptizing” other students. At an appeals hearing, Danny Thomas later changed his stance and voted along with the majority of the school board to instead modify the expulsion to one semester and to eliminate the out-of-school suspension for the other three students.

Todd Thomas said that in order to avoid a conflict of interest in the case, he would have contacted the ASP if someone had filed a formal complaint with his office.

“I would have called the state police. We would assist the state police. But there’s no way we would have worked it, just out of etiquette. I wouldn’t think that that would be appropriate. But, no, we were not at all notified,” Todd Thomas stated. 


Ongoing District

Investigation


Another Title IX investigation in the district remains ongoing. One parent who has a child who was a victim of being baptized in the ongoing investigation told The Record that they are waiting for the outcome in that investigation before deciding if they will go to the authorities concerning what happened to their child.

“As you know, of course, the first investigation is completed,” the parent said. 

The parent said their son was not involved in the closed investigation, other than being interviewed, “But now that this investigation is still ongoing, kind of my stance right now is we’re going to give the school right now the opportunity to do what is right and handle the discipline that justifies, the discipline that needs to be handed out for what they did.

“I’ve said all along, before [their child] ever admitted that it had happened to him. I’ve said all along that they should not ever be allowed to wear any type of uniform for Huntsville ever again,” a parent said.

“And, now that is not to say that if the discipline falls short of that, I wouldn’t support it. But, I am a disciplinarian, and I have an old-school mentality on that and have very low tolerance for this type of stuff,” a parent stated.

“And, so, but if we don’t feel like the discipline is adequate, then we will take action,” the parent said.

Another parent told The Record, “I feel actions have consequences. The reason we really don’t want to go with the criminal route yet is because this will follow these boys forever if it goes that far, and I know at least one of them is truly remorseful and has made changes to his lifestyle. But, he still deserves punishment for what happened.”

A couple of parents told The Record that if the student is expelled, then the student will not be able to participate in sports for that season.

When contacted by The Record, Derek Walter of the Arkansas Activities Association said the districts determine student eligibility, and the AAA is not involved in determining whether students are allowed to play certain sports. 

When asked about the players who are still participating on athletic teams and others who have not missed any practices, a parent told The Record, “During the time period that they are expelled, they’re not allowed to play in any school activities.  As far as them playing now, if I’m not mistaken, I believe the terms of their final discipline, expulsion, states that it begins whenever they go back to school in August.

“So, as far as that goes, if you want to get technical about it, right now, they would not be expelled. It would not officially start until August. And, so, that’s probably a technical explanation for why they are still playing,” the parent said.