Lawsuits: Two Orangeburg special needs students repeatedly sexually assaulted by special needs classmate

Published: Sep. 13, 2019 at 7:49 PM EDT
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ORANGEBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WIS) - Two lawsuits filed against the Orangeburg Consolidated School District allege two special needs students were forced to perform sexual acts and raped multiple times by a fellow special needs classmate at Edisto High School earlier this year.

The lawsuits allege what was previously Orangeburg Consolidated School District Four was negligent in ensuring the students within the class were protected and properly supervised. Additionally, the district is accused of being in violation of federal ADA law, Title IX and the IDEA Act.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal the application of the woman who applied for a substitute teacher position after the full-time teacher of the special education class at the high school took a leave of absence.

In it, she lists her previous job as a certified nursing assistant working at a nursing home. The application asks a series of questions about qualifications and certifications related to the teaching field. The woman answered “no” when asked if she held certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a South Carolina teaching certificate, and had not passed the PRAXIS exam.

“Are those the certifications you want a substitute teacher having when they’re dealing not just with kids but kids who need and require specialized treatment?” asked attorney Justin Bamberg. “How was she able to get the job?”

According to the lawsuit, the sexual assaults took place between five and seven times during January and February of 2019, before one of the victims told his parents at home about what was taking place.

Over the course of that time period, the assaults took place in bathrooms around the building including within the special needs classroom. It alleges, in early 2019, one of the victims began being sexually assaulted and harassed. These acts included verbal statements and physical touching, eventually growing into more extreme conduct, the suit said.

During one occurrence, the victim asked to go to the bathroom inside the classroom and was given permission. After he entered the bathroom, the suit alleges the assailant walked past the substitute teacher and also entered the bathroom, assaulting the victim. The suit claims during the assault, the teacher was on her cell phone.

In another instance, the victim entered the bathroom and witnessed the assailant raping another special needs student. The victim tried to get the assailant to stop when he was then approached by the assailant who “humped the victim skin-to-skin,” the lawsuit states.

Bamberg said, during the alleged repeated assaults, no adults were supervising the students.

“They deserve our best. We owe them our best. Their parents our best and these students did not receive our best as they were being sexually assaulted over and over again,” he said. “If the district had done what they were supposed to do, none of this would have happened.”

The Orangeburg Consolidated School District said it has not received the lawsuit and cannot comment on pending litigation. It also referred questions about the teacher’s subsequent employment and district policy regarding special needs classrooms to FOIA requests.

The district released this statement: “On behalf of the Superintendent and the District, we wish to make it clear that the well-being and safety of all students is a top priority and the District in no way condones or tolerates any inappropriate conduct between students. If information is ever presented to the administration that any such inappropriate conduct may have taken place, the District immediately investigates and handles each situation as appropriate, including notifying law enforcement, if warranted.”

The special needs student suspected of committing the assaults is being charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor, a felony. However, the court is currently waiting on a competency evaluation.

Bamberg said the blame does not solely fall on the substitute teacher nor the suspected student, but rather the district for not being selective in its hiring process and therefore failing to protect the students within the class.

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