A former Kell High School student who was sexually abused by a teacher says administrators failed to follow rules in place that would have protected her, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.
Spencer Herron, who taught video at Kell until his arrest last spring, pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual assault against the student, who was a minor. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Prosecutors said over the course of 2016 and 2017 Herron arranged to be alone with his victim “under the pretense of meeting for a nonexistent school club.”
The complaint filed Tuesday names as defendants former Kell High Principal Ed Wagner, now assistant superintendent for the district; current Kell Principal Andy Bristow; and Vice Principal Susan Stoddard. The filing says the three officials violated district policy requiring review and approval of new clubs and field trips.
“Defendants permitted Kell High School teacher Spencer Herron to use the so-called Drone Club as a means to repeatedly sexually assault [the student] at various locations inside Kell High School during or after meetings,” it reads. Herron also assaulted the girl on unsanctioned “field trips” away from campus, it says.
A spokesperson said the district could not comment on ongoing litigation and has worked closely with police on the investigation into Herron.
“The district actively engages with parents and students on any topic which threatens student safety,” it said in a statement.
The former student, now a rising sophomore in college, wrote in response to written questions submitted to her lawyer that the lawsuit is important “to help make sure other girls are safe when they go to school.”
“I hope this shows other victims and their families that they can stand up for themselves too,” she wrote. “I want girls to know that it is wrong for a trusted adult to abuse that trust to manipulate them into doing things they are not comfortable with. Victims should also not feel guilty or ashamed of themselves.”
Her attorney, Mike Rafi, said his client is seeking damages, and hopes her lawsuit will force the district to implement reforms.
This is not the first time Cobb has come under scrutiny for its handling of sex abuse cases.
East Cobb mother Rene Dodd started a parents group last year to pressure the district to adopt changes after several high profile cases, including the one at Kell. But she said she’s seen no evidence the district has learned its lesson.
“I’m livid,” she said when she learned of the lawsuit against Kell school officials. “I fear not only for the safety of my daughter but for my community.”
Dodd said she would like the district to be more transparent when safety issues arise and to invest in mental health services for students.
“Cobb is so focused on their good numbers that they’re trying to hide the issues,” she said. “Because they’re hiding it and creating this culture not to talk about it, it’s just going to get worse and worse.”
The district spokesperson pointed to several safety initiatives, including the “SafeSchools Alert” tip line, safety training, and the “Concerned Cops” mentor program. Cobb has 30 days to file a response to the lawsuit in state court.
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