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Vassalboro woman sues local school alleging harassment of fifth-grade daughter

The suit says Vassalboro Community School officials were deliberately indifferent to the complaints of her fifth-grade daughter.
Credit: Credit: Zolnierek
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VASSALBORO, Maine — A Vassalboro woman has filed suit against the local elementary school, alleging officials were indifferent to multiple reports by her fifth-grade daughter that another student sexually harassed her.

The suit seeks damages and civil penalties, claiming the school violated Title IX and the Maine Human Rights Act by creating a hostile educational environment and causing severe emotional distress.

In a complaint filed Thursday, Portland attorney Richard L. O'Meara said that in the fall of 2019, a male student verbally and sexually harassed the victim, who was in fifth grade at the time.

Among other alleged incidents, the suit alleges the boy slapped the girl on the behind, hugged her from behind, grabbed her chest, and on one occasion pushed the girl to the ground causing a bloodied knee, and threatened to kill her.

Despite multiple complaints to several staff members, O'Meara said, the harassment continued.

The suit alleges that when the student and a friend reported the harassment to the school counselor, she told them to speak directly to the student and that "boys' brains just function differently than girls' brains."

Despite the girl saying she felt unsafe around the boy, the counselor allegedly brought the two together, had the boy apologize, and then had the boy hug the girl "despite her visible discomfort."

After the boy allegedly pushed the girl, causing her knee to be bloodied, the school nurse allegedly refused to let the girl go home, and a gym teacher allegedly scolded her for reporting the behavior to the principal.

When the student finally told her mother of the alleged harassment, the mother filed a complaint. According to O'Meara, the woman learned that four of six fifth-grade students interviewed said the boy had touched them inappropriately, had touched their breasts, three said he had touched their behinds, and all six said they knew of the inappropriate touching.

According to the complaint, when the school responded to a Maine Human Rights Commission investigation when officials learned of the serious allegations, the boy was removed from school immediately.

"This statement is false," O'Meara wrote. He said that despite the girl's complaints in September and October 2019, the boy was not removed from school until the mother complained in November 2019.

The Maine Human Rights Commission ultimately dismissed the case.

Vassalboro Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer had no comment on Tuesday.