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Huntsville college lawyer says directors erred by not notifying press of sexual-harassment hearings

The Huntsville school district was wrong when it failed to inform news organizations of a school committee meeting in May that resulted in the expulsion of two students for sexual harassment, the district attorney said on a file with the Madison County Circuit Court.

Since the meeting was a disciplinary matter, “the defendants erred in believing that notification was not required,” wrote Charles Harwell, a school district attorney, on Wednesday’s file.

Harwell said the press would not have been able to attend the May 3 disciplinary hearings as they were held in two executive sessions.

“The disciplinary hearings were held in accordance with Ark. Code Ann. 6-18-507 (d) (2) (A) in an executive session during which the Education Committee discussed disciplinary sanctions imposed on students involved in a Title IX investigation , which included sexual assault when the students were on the Huntsville Junior High basketball team, “Harwell wrote.

However, according to the lawsuit filed by Fort Smith attorney Joey McCutchen on behalf of Benjamin Rightsell von Witter, notification is required that a meeting is occurring under Arkansas Code Annotated 25-19-106 (b) (2) would.

Disciplinary matters can be discussed in the executive session, but no decision made in the executive session is legal unless the public body meets again and votes publicly in accordance with state law.

The school board met again after board meetings and voted publicly, Harwell wrote.

McCutchen filed the lawsuit on July 28, saying the Huntsville county violated the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act by failing to brief the press about the meeting and by not recording it.

The public portions of the meetings were recorded, but the camera “has automatically recorded the meeting since then,” according to Harwell’s records.

“The defendants admit they no longer have the recording as it was transferred,” wrote Harwell. “There are minutes of the meeting.”

Two junior high boys basketball players were evicted after administrators investigated allegations of sexual harassment among the players.

According to a “Title IX Sexual Bullying Determination of Responsibility” report finalized after the internal investigation, the accused gamblers had their “genitals in the face” of several boys in eighth and ninth graders who were tied up in the locker by other boys in the room after the games. The practice – called “baptism” and / or “bean dipping” – occurred several times during the basketball season as well as the previous year, according to the report.

The two boys admitted to having “baptized” other players, according to the report. One of the defendants said he was “baptized” in eighth grade by a boy who is now on the senior basketball team.

Other boys were quoted in the report for helping to hold back the victims while they were being “baptized.” Because they are minors and students, the boys’ names are not used in the report.

On May 3, the school board met and upheld the punishment recommended by the school administration. After an appeal, the committee met again on May 19 and reduced the sentence for both boys from one year of expulsion to one semester, according to McCuthen’s file.

Rightsell and McCutchen want the court to declare that the board has violated the Freedom of Information Act and that future meetings be held in accordance with the law. They also charged attorneys’ fees and expenses.

Junior high boys basketball coach, Kaleb Houston, resigned on Aug. 2. In his letter of resignation, Houston wrote that he would “pursue an opportunity for employment in the real estate business.”

He was replaced by River Gosvener, who was the seventh grade basketball coach.

Madison County Sheriff Rick Evans said his department is conducting a criminal investigation into allegations against the basketball players. Evans was unable to be reached on Friday to confirm whether this investigation is still ongoing.

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