Audio recording in locker room results in students' 10-day suspension

"10 days is not enough! 10 days is not enough! 10 days is not enough!"

"Fire Holland! Fire Holland! Fire Holland!"

"Who's next?"

"He had to walk the halls with the people who assaulted them!"

"They don't have to be in the classroom with the kids they attacked!"

Shouts of protest resounded outside a school board meeting on Monday, June 11 from at least 40 concerned parents and high school students.

The protest came after the Lamar School district's Title IX investigative team released their decision to suspend three students responsible forsexual assault and harassment for 10 days when school resumes in August.

Superintendent Jay Holland has the authority to expel the students responsible, but did not after the Title IX decision-maker sent their report to parents of the students.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title IX, part of the Education Amendments of 1972.

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Title IX protects students from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.

Lamar School district has its own Title IX policy cited on its website.

Other recommended disciplinary actions included in the official Title IX report obtained by the Times Record included the following:

  1. 10 days of out-of-school suspension.

  2. Upon return from OSS, a No Contact Order (NCO) is put into place, addressing: students found responsible aren't allowed to contact the complainants within a timeframe that may include summer, meaning summer school or school-sponsored camps or events.

  3. Students found responsible be provided "mini-courses related to harassment."

  4. A school administrator may decide that the agreement will continue into the 2022-2023 school year.

  5. Schedule a time before the 2023-2024 school year to review the NCO with students found responsible and their parents/guardians.

The original Title IX complaint was filed on March 11, 2022, accusing four students of sexual assault on March 8.

According to the district investigator's findings, only three of the four students accused were found "responsible" for the assault after their voices were identified in an audio recording of the sexual assault.

The district's Title IX coordinator, Brittney Schluterman​​​​​​, also received other reports including the three students responsible for sexual assault were "reaching under the stall" and assaulting a fellow student in the bathroom.

A separate report was made about another student who reportedly inappropriately touched another student after pinning him up against a wall.

At least 40 protestors attend the Lamar school board meeting on Monday, July 11 after their Title IX investigator reached a decision of a 10-day suspension and No Contact Order for students responsible for sexual assault and harassment.

The students, who are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, said they experienced these assaults from the summer through November of 2021.

The protestors stayed through the entirety of the school board meeting to hear any update on the case.

Attorneys Joey McCutchen, Chip Sexton and Stephen Napurano from Fort Smith represent the three students who alleged that they were sexually harassed and sexually assaulted.

McCutchen said both the complainant and respondent parties appealed the 10-day suspension and other disciplinary actions to obtain a higher level of accountability.

"Right now we're just letting the process play out," McCutchen said. "We've seen the decision-maker say 10 days out of school suspension, which we think is ridiculous. And conduct rewarded is conduct repeated. We've appealed because we don't think the punishment fits the crime."

McCutchen's legal team is hopeful for the full expulsion of the students responsible.

"The decision-maker can talk about a no-contact order all she wants but the bottom line is, this is a small school district, these kids are in athletics together, in school together and it affects the learning environment of these victims. That's the major concern here," he said.

Lamar school district community members bring signs to protest at the board meeting on Monday, July 11 following the Title IX investigator's decision to suspend perpetrators of sexual violence for 10 days when school resumes in August.

One mother of an alleged victim said the support from families in the school district has been awesome, but said she's upset with Lamar schools as a whole.

"The middle school principal said he wasn't made aware of anything until police got involved and that was a lie," she said. "We did go to him, we also went to the superintendent the next day, and they just kept telling us that it wasn't that big of a deal. When they heard the audio and it still wasn't a 'big deal.'"

The mother, who wishes to remain anonymous, said when an audio recording of one of the alleincidents came out, more students stepped forward with similar experiences.

Line-by-line quotes including time stamps are cited in the Title IX report that included graphic and disturbing content.

"The school just wants to cover it up," the anonymous mother said. "Ten days is a joke, that's an extra 10 days of summer vacation. Our boys still have to play the same sports and they still have to sit in class."

The mother continued on to say that the football coaches could have been present in the locker room to stop the crimes from occurring.

In the district's Title IX report, a football coach said he knew of fighting, breaking property and vandalism.

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"One coach in his statement for Title IX said that there had been a lot of problems with this group of boys, that there was fighting and everything else," she said. "Okay, so you knew there were problems, and where were you? Why was nobody there? We've got several football coaches. Why couldn't one of them be present?"

The mother also said when she tried to report the incidents to Lamar Police Department, she and the other parents were "cussed like dogs."

Both the Lamar Police and the Arkansas State Police Departments have opened investigations into the allegations according to the school district's Title IX report.

Leaders from the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Ozark Rape Crisis Center were present at the board meeting to support the student survivors.

From left to right: Monie Ballard, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, law enforcement training director Kenny Smith, associate Michelle Cline and Dorinda Edmisten, executive director of the Ozark Rape Crisis Center all attended the Lamar school board meeting following their release of the punishment for student perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment.

Monie Ballard, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the organization received calls about the events happening within the Lamar school district.

"We were concerned enough to want to review what had happened and then be supportive of the parents here," she said. "That's why we showed up and sat on the front row so that (the board) could see who we were and they could see that we're concerned."

Ballard said the coalition looks at every school in the state's Title IX policy for areas of improvement.

The coalition's resources are at the state level, but Ballard said they could get those in higher power involved to make something happen within the Lamar school district.

Dorinda Edmisten, executive director for the Ozark Rape Crisis center, said they fill in the "gaps" to assist families with child survivors of sexual violence.

The advocates at the center connect families to mental health resources, provide assistance in court procedures and more.

Edmisten said the center provides prevention educational programs for area schools, which are supported by the coalition.

"If we don't talk about it, we're never going to solve this problem," she said. "The more awareness we can get brought to this issue, the better."

The Times Record will continue to follow up with the school district and law enforcement as they complete their investigative processes.

This article originally appeared on Fort Smith Times Record: Lamar Middle School administration responds to sexual assault