Sun. Apr 5th, 2020

School officials: Students suspended for bullying student

School officials: Students suspended for bullying student

A Roncalli High School football player allegedly filmed a student with Down syndrome urinating and showed it to one of his teammates.

Weeks later, in retaliation for telling on them, they allegedly forced him to put his mouth on a player’s chest and recorded that as well. They told him, according to the family’s lawyer, if he said anything about it this time, they would kill his family.

Since then, some members of the team have been suspended and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is investigating, but the boy’s mother, Lesli Woodruff, said school officials did not act appropriately or quickly enough after the bullying incidents were reported.

The alleged incidents occurred early in the season, in the weeks leading up to the team’s homecoming game. The victim worked with the team as a student manager, a way to get more involved in student life. But his relationship with the team changed in September when he was bullied by several players. 

The southside Catholic school did almost nothing about it, Woodruff said.

During the first bullying incident, a member of the football team allegedly videotaped the student urinating and showed it to one of his teammates. After the victim told his mother about what happened, she called the school to report the incident.

Woodruff told Shelbyville attorney Curt Johnson, who is representing the family, that Roncalli’s dean made sure the video was deleted, but didn’t watch it. The dean also told Woodruff that school officials would pay more attention to what happened in the boys’ locker room going forward.

That’s when the situation escalated, Johnson said.

Before the team’s homecoming game in late September, members of the team allegedly coerced the student into putting his mouth on the chest of one of the football players as a means of retribution for telling his mother about the initial incident. Students videotaped that incident as well and threatened to kill the student’s family if he told, Johnson said.

“This young man has Down syndrome and was promised protection after the first go-round. The following Wednesday, Lesli receives an anonymous letter in the mail saying this happened and (the sender) was worried the school will sweep it under the rug,” Johnson said.

The second incident may have involved as many as 11 students, Johnson said.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis said in a written statement it was aware of the incidents and had suspended the students involved. Roncalli High School staff also reported the incidents to the Department of Child Services, according to the statement.

“Thus far, students have been suspended and one is no longer attending Roncalli,” the statement said.

“Following the outcome of the police investigation, further action may be taken. The safety and well-being of every student is of utmost importance to us, and we are committed to continuously seeking ways to improve practices and procedures related to student safety. We remain confident that Roncalli High School offers an exceptional educational and faith formation experience in a safe, secure environment.”

After Woodruff pressed her son about the second alleged incident, he admitted it happened, she said. Woodruff filed a police report, and IMPD is investigating. The Marion County Prosecutor’s Office will decide what, if any, charges to file.

Once the prosecutor makes a decision, Johnson and Woodruff will decide if they want to file a lawsuit against the school, said Woodruff, who has since removed her son from the school.

“You, as a parent, always worry about something like this happening to your child. (My son) has Down syndrome, and we’re aware he’s more vulnerable to be taken advantage of,” Woodruff said. “It’s disappointing and incredibly sad for us.”

Johnson, the family’s attorney, sent a letter to Roncalli High School offering to not go to the media if the school paid the family $150,000, but the school refused, he said.

Even though the school took action by suspending the students involved, a fundamental cultural shift is needed at Roncalli so that something like this doesn’t happen in the future, Johnson said.

“The good news is there’s still time for Roncalli to do the right thing and to take a good hard look at this incident, how it unfolded, and modify their policies to prevent something like this from reoccurring. That’s the ultimate goal,” Johnson said.

Woodruff wants to see more accountability on the school’s behalf.

“I hope there will be charges brought about,” she said. “We really believe there’s an opportunity to impact change at Roncalli and the culture there so things are addressed in the appropriate manner and not swept under the rug.”

Published at Fri, 06 Dec 2019 22:45:00 +0000

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