Many parents are anxious for students to return to classes in the Huntsville School District in three weeks as punishment remains lacking for students involved in sexual assault allegations. 

Parents expressed concern about students’ safety, noting the lack of any corrective measures being implemented. 

“What have they done to tell me as a dad that it’s not going to happen to my kid,” T.W. Dotson, a parent and a Madison County justice of the peace, said. 

As the last school year ended, the district was investigating allegations of sexual assault referred to by boys basketball team members as “baptizing.”

“Baptizing” occurred when players restrained younger teammates while other players undressed and placed their genitals in or on the restrained players’ faces. In a Title IX investigation conducted by the school, two junior high school basketball players admitted to “baptizing” teammates. According to a victim’s parent, the incidents happened multiple times to several players. Some players were “baptized” more than 10 times. 

One parent told The Record that his son had told him that after a game, the older boys stood in front of the locker room doors to prevent other players from leaving. Younger players would run 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 laying in the floor crying.

After the incidents were reported to the administration and coaches in February, a Title IX investigation began. Even though decision makers in the case recommended expelling two students for a year and suspending three other students for five days, the  Huntsville School Board punished two students by expelling them for one semester. No other players have faced disciplinary action, including for physically restraining teammates. 

Those students who face no punishment are attending team practices and have been volunteers at pee wee sports camps this summer. 

Parents expressed frustration that no corrective measures have been implemented to make sure the incidents don’t happen again.

“The kids that held the door and didn’t let them out. … If any of those kids are in the practice right now, with my son or your son, that’s very stressful,” Dotson said to school board members after last week’s board meeting adjourned.

“They’re down butting elbows with the kids they done it too playing basketball right now,” another parent Carl Stewart said, emphasizing that as the school board meeting was taking place the players who had not been disciplined were attending basketball practice.

School district administrators implemented some corrective measures immediately after finding out about the alleged assaults, according to Director of Athletics Tom McCollough.

Huntsville School District Superintendent Audra Kimball stated this week, “There were things put in place. There were things immediately done. 

“In fact they have been just keeping locker rooms locked. They have to come to practice with their jerseys on,” she said.

McCollough said he received a call from Huntsville High School Principal Roxanne Enix late one night in February and she told him what had taken place in the locker rooms. The next day, McCollough went to the basketball coaches. 

“I talked to them about what was going on,” McCollough said. “Obviously, they didn’t know about it. But once we found out fully what was happening, I talked to all the coaches in person and told them to make sure that they are in the dressing room door, hurrying kids along to get them out, making sure nothing like this was going on,” McCollough said. 

McCollough said he wasn’t asking the coaches “to stand in there as they are dressing because that could cause a whole other set of problems but to be outside the doorway and step in every little bit to hurry them along to get dressed and get on the court or field or on their way to their rides if the game/practice if over,” he said.

He told them, “We are all under a microscope and we need to make sure we are all doing what is best for our kids and our programs. Have an environment where the kids feel safe and comfortable coming to you if any problems arise. Let’s make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

McCollough said he was shocked by reports last weekend that “baptizings” are still taking place and does not believe those reports to be true. 

He said the coaches are present “now more than ever.”

Baptizing could not still be happening in the locker rooms because the players come to practice fully dressed and are not going in and out of the dressing rooms, which remain locked, he said. 

“For football they are going into the locker rooms,” he said.

“They have to come in and get their workout gear and their helmets and that sort of thing. But in football, it’s a little different as far as the set up, because the coaches’ offices are right in between the junior high and senior high dressing rooms. And, they walk through them constantly,” McCollough said.

“I do not believe it’s happening still in our facilities,” he said.

Title IX Training 

In the Title IX Final Investigation Report, the school outlined “supportive measures” that were planned, which included locker room supervision until the room is empty and locked. The district also stated it would review locker room and team expectations. 

In a Determination of Responsibility, a part of the Title IX investigation, sent to parents, the decision makers recommended that the two students who were to be expelled also participate in Title IX Sexual Harassment Training provided by Huntsville High School Principal Roxanne Enix. 

So far, that training has not taken place. 

By throwing out the punishment for the three students who had been recommended for out-of-school suspension, the board also threw out the recommended training, which was to be Arkansas Activities Association Conduct Training and Title IX Bullying and Sexual Harassment training, also administered by Enix on May 20. That training did not take place as the punishment was thrown out.

The Determination of Responsibility also stated that all athletes, regardless of sport and gender, will be required to be trained in the AAA Athlete Conduct guidelines provided by McCollough prior to the start of the sport’s practice season. In addition, all athletes will be required to take part in Title IX’s Sexual Harassment training provided by either McCollough or the district’s Title IX Coordinator Tonja McCone prior to the start of the sports’ practice season.

Several sports have begun summer practices, but so far no AAA or Title IX training has taken place. 

“I guess there was some misunderstanding on our part on when that was exactly supposed to take place,” McCollough said. 

“We are in the process of getting that training put together for them. For one thing, the AAA site is down that had all of those links and stuff to it. That’s not an excuse. Please don’t think that. They’re rebuilding their site. 

“I’ve looked on there and tried to find things that we’re wanting to use. It’s not available on there right now. We are getting it together.”

That training will take place this fall, McCollough said.

In addition to Title IX training, the district will also develop safety plans, McCollough said. Those plans will establish protocols students may follow to inform coaches and administrators of any incidents that may happen. Those safety plans will be presented to the parents and students. 

McCollough said the before summer practices began, coaches discussed the alleged sexual assault allegations with their team.

“They’ve been talked to about these things by the coaches and have been told that training is coming and they will be given some training on all of these issues that we’ve been dealing with,” McCollough said.

The district also stated a coach or faculty member will monitor all locker rooms regardless of sport or gender prior to practice and/or competitions and that locker rooms will be locked during times when they are not in use. 

Lack Of Punishment In Athletic Department

“Where the coaches and the administration failed is after, is now,” Dotson said, stating that he isn’t aware of any discipline for some of the students involved in physically restraining other players.

Dotson, who is also a teacher and basketball coach for the Rogers School District, said when a player on his team breaks a school rule, that player not only is punished by the school, but also by him as the players’ coach.

“In my basketball program, there’s a second correction that goes on because you are held to a second standard in school life, because you’re a student athlete. So in my opinion you’re also in trouble as an athlete,” Dotson said. 

“How in the world do you leave kids on the same team with the same victims without any change? What are you telling the victims? Are the victims all supposed to quit and the predators supposed to stay?” Dotson said. 

“If I’m a kid, what am I supposed to think? I either have to go back in the locker room with these guys and be on the team with these guys who did this to me. You’re asking the victim to overcome the predator and the predator is not being punished. That’s the part where I think this has failed.”

School board members and Kimball were made aware of the “baptizing” incidents in February.  After which, the school conducted a Title IX Investigation into the junior high boys basketball program. Decision makers – Enix, Middle School Principal Matt Ferguson and McCollough – recommended a yearlong expulsion for two students, five days out-of-school suspension for three students, and in-school suspension for one student.

After five players appealed the expulsions and suspensions, the board lessened the punishment.

It was that time that the board appears to have discussed suspending all students on the team for five games, stating that the players all knew about the alleged sexual assaults and did not tell the coaches. 

So far that five-game suspension has not been implemented, McCollough said.

Kimball has stated that she didn’t feel there should be discipline for the coaches because she has said the coaches didn’t know. She agreed that there should be more supervision.

Dotson questioned how the coaches didn’t notice the players not coming out of the locker rooms. 

“It’s taking the kids 10, 15 minutes to do this surely and they’re in the locker room while you’re [the coaches] on the basketball floor and you don’t know what they’re doing. And never in two years did you walk back in there and catch them horse playing or goofing off. That’s where my problem lies,” Dotson said.

Dotson said McCollough is between “a rock and a hard place because some really bad things happened to the kids when the coaches were supposed to be watching them, but they weren’t watching them.

“They weren’t monitoring as well as they should have been, in my opinion.”

Dotson said Kimball also has to bear some of the responsibility for what happened in the locker rooms.

School Board President Danny Thomas, “told us in the [board] meeting, he said we didn’t know how much sleep she’d lost and how much this was bothering her. That has nothing to do with the job that she needs to do and that’s to take care of our kids. 

“I mean that’s the biggest problem right now with me is that we’re relying on that superintendent and those people who are dealing with those kids on an everyday basis. Let’s get past this school board thing because that’s not who’s liable. Yes, they’re liable for lessening the punishment and I didn’t agree with that either, but they’re not responsible for protecting our kids everyday. She is and we pay her to do it. That’s a big problem,” Dotson said.  

The Title IX investigation into the junior high boys basketball program was closed. 

However, during the appeals process one of the students who was expelled stated that he baptized other players because older players had done the same to him the previous season. The school district opened an additional Title IX investigation, which remains ongoing. Shortly after, another player filed an additional Title IX complaint, which was then combined with the ongoing investigation into now senior high basketball players.