A lawsuit in which Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools is accused of mishandling allegations of three first-grade students being sexually abused by their classmates was moved to federal court on Oct. 2.
First filed in May in state court, the lawsuit claims school officials did not properly investigate and respond to the abuse, and the family of one minor is suing for negligence, gross negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
The abuse occurred around spring of 2010 in a system-wide classroom for students with behavioral health difficulties at Estes Hills Elementary School. Lucy Hayes, who taught the class at the time of the incident, filed an affidavit on Aug. 19, documenting how she learned of and reported the abuse and the response by the principal and other officials.
In previous academic years, Hayes said her classroom included students from kindergarten through second grade, with third and fifth graders in a separate classroom. She claims during that school year, the two classrooms merged into one, and students from kindergarten to fifth grade were all in her class.
Hayes said she noticed that there was something wrong in her classroom around the spring semester due to a change in normal behavior from a number of her students.
After convincing one student to tell her what was happening, she realized that there was inappropriate and unwanted sexual conduct occurring on the bus. Hayes said she immediately took the student to speak with Elizabeth Clary, the assistant principal at the time.
In a meeting with the guidance counselor and the then-principal, Cheryl Carnahan, Hayes was told that instead of calling the Department of Social Services, the counselor recommended that the Orange County Rape Crisis Center should come and do a presentation for the students.
Hayes claims that she was also told that the situation was handled and to "stay out of it." Volunteers from the crisis center came and did a presentation about safe touching weeks later.
“I became angry that this is how the school chose to address the matter and had to leave the presentation,” said Hayes in her 2019 affidavit.
Talya Mazor, who was hired in 2012 to be the mental health clinician for these classrooms, also filed an affidavit. While working with the boys, Mazor said she found that three of the students had symptoms of PTSD. In the spring of 2013, Mazor said one of the students confided in her that he had been sexually abused.
Mazor said that this student indicated that the abuse was committed by two older students in his class when he was in first grade. According to Mazor's affidavit, the student claimed there was inappropriate touching and a code word used to trigger distress among the victims.
Mazor said she was able to convince another one of the victims to speak with her and found that his comments matched the first student’s.
Despite initially being told the situation had been handled before she was hired, Mazor said that she kept investigating. In her affidavit, Mazor claims administrators did not inform the parents of the abuse, nor ensure the victims and perpetrators received counseling.
Jeffrey Nash, executive director of community relations for the district, said the district is changing its procedures for reporting and investigating sexual abuse.
“The district is in the process of updating its policy as recommended by the N.C. Board of Education,” he said.