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Negligence Lawsuit Filed Against McCracken Schools
By West Kentucky Star Staff
PADUCAH - A lawsuit has been filed against the McCracken County School District by lawyers representing a former student who reported a sexual assault.

The suit was filed in McCracken Circuit Court Thursday by Donna Thornton-Green and Bard Brian, on behalf of the former student and her parents. In addition to the district and the board of education, the suit names seven other defendants: McCracken County High School Principal Michael Ceglinski, Assistant Principals Elaine Kaye and Molly Goodman, Teacher Stephanie Carter, Guidance Counselors Jeremy Watwood and Wendy Watts, District Director of Pupil Personnel Brian Bowland, and former Superintendent Brian Harper. 

The suit claims the defendants were negligent because they failed to train staff on how to report sexual abuse, supervise the safety of the minor student, follow their own policy, and make reports of the victim's abuse. The document also claims the defendants orchestrated events to conceal public knowledge of the sexual abuse, including bullying and threatening the girl to keep her quiet, which led to emotional trauma.

Eighteen-year-old Princekumar Joshi, another former student, was charged last February with using electronics to record or possess sexual images of a minor, but plead guilty to lesser charges in June and was sentenced in September. The McCracken Sheriff's Department said he forced the girl to perform a sexual act and recorded it on his phone. 

The lawsuit states that the student told Carter she felt threatened by Joshi on February 12, 2019, and Carter told the girl she would have to report it. Three days later, she was called into an office with Watwood and Watts, where she was asked to recount the assault, which took place February 6. While she was writing a two-page statement, the counselors allegedly played a song they learned Joshi had played in the car after the assault. After reading the statement, Goodman asked if the sexual act was consensual, and the student said, "no."

The lawsuit says the student saw Ceglinski go into an office with Watts and Watwood, and she was called to another meeting by Kaye later the same day. When Carter, who had been with the girl since the first meeting, tried to accompany her, Kaye said Carter wasn't needed in the office. 

Asked again if the act was consensual, the girl said, "no," but when told that police would be called, she changed her answer due to fear. That's when Kaye reportedly said the girl could be suspended from school for skipping classes because the sexual act took place at a residence. The student responded by falling to the floor, shaking and crying, asking how she could get in trouble for trusting them and initially telling them the truth. Carter had to help her leave the office in front of other students while crying. 

The suit also claims that the girl's parents were not notified according to school policy, and nobody from the school contacted law enforcement, which is mandated by state law. The Sheriff's Department began investigating two days later, after the girl told her parents and they called 911.  

Joshi, Ceglinski and Bowland were all charged with crimes on February 19, but charges against Ceglinski and Bowland were later dropped. 

The lawsuit says that after the men were charged, the student no longer felt safe or comfortable when talking to counselors or house principals at the school, and started having panic attacks. She also says she began getting negative comments from students and teachers, including one man who allegedly said he, "didn't want to end up on the news."

The suit says the victim has subsequently undergone psychological counseling because of the abuse and events surrounding her report to adults at the school. 

The plaintiff's attorneys claim the defendants created an environment that led to the minor's shame in reporting her sexual abuse. The suit says the, "defendants did not express empathy or support for (her), publicly or otherwise, but rather focused solely on their individual predicament in having charges against them. Defendants even orchestrated a 'high five' cheer between Ceglinski and the student body upon Ceglinski's return to school following the dismissal of his charges."

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial, compensatory damages for the harm the girl and her family suffered, and punitive damages for the accused misconduct. A specific amount was not demanded by the plaintiffs. 

Published 08:20 PM, Friday Feb. 07, 2020
Updated 10:32 AM, Sunday Feb. 09, 2020

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