Mother Says School Blew off Sex Reports
HARRISBURG, Penn. (CN) - After school officials were told an assistant principal sneaked a girl out of her house repeatedly to have sex with him at a motel, they told the girl's mother "they were not going to ruin a man's career over these rumors," the mother claims in court.
The mother, Paris Hall, sued the Susquehanna Township School District, former assistant principal Shawn Sharkey, Superintendent Susan Kegerise and six other teachers and school administrators in Federal Court, on behalf of her daughter, M.S.
M.S. suffers from learning disabilities and emotional problems, including low self-esteem and depression, and follows an Individualized Education Program, according to the complaint.
In 2012, M.S.'s parents, who are divorced, decided she should live with her father so she could attend Susquehanna Township High School, the lawsuit states.
The mother claims her daughter, a special needs student, had been bullied by students at her previous school in the Harrisburg School District.
After M.S. enrolled in Susquehanna Township High School, the school hired Shawn Sharkey as an assistant principal and put him in charge of 10th grade students, according to the complaint.
The mother claims that Sharkey, formerly known as Shawn Alexander Constable, changed his last name after being arrested in the 1990s and charged with inducing a minor to buy alcohol.
She claims the school district hired him without performing a basic background search, and allowed him to supervise students, including her daughter.
Sharkey began preying upon M.S. within days of his hiring, taking advantage of her emotional issues and using his position to search her records, the mother says in the lawsuit.
M.S. met Sharkey in January this year, when he pulled her out of class to discuss a bullying incident. A few days later, M.S. met him again in the nurse's office, where he gave her his cell phone number, the mother claims.
Then Sharkey sent a text message to M.S., initiating a relationship that lasted for months, according to the lawsuit.
"On the evening of Feb. 1, 2013, M.S. called Sharkey and asked him what he was doing," the complaint states.
"Sharkey replied that he was at the Econo Lodge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
"Sharkey resided in the Philadelphia area, but he would stay at the Econo Lodge and other local motels on Tuesdays and Thursdays when he attended school board meetings or functions at STHS in the evenings.
"Sharkey then asked M.S. where she lived.
"After telling Sharkey where she lived, Sharkey arrived approximately ten (10) minutes later to pick her up.
"M.S. snuck out of her father's house to meet Sharkey, who was waiting in his car for her.
"Sharkey then drove M.S. to the Econo Lodge where he was staying.
"There, Sharkey engaged in oral sex with M.S.
"Sharkey also engaged in vaginal intercourse with M.S.
"Sharkey drove M.S. back to her father's house and dropped her off at approximately 1:00 a.m.
"After this first encounter, M.S. 'felt like she was on top of the world' and felt 'special' because Sharkey was older and her assistant principal."
The mother claims Sharkey had sex with her daughter at least 10 times in February and March, usually on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, when he stayed in town.
She claims Sharkey discussed "his unhappiness at home" with M.S. and told her that he wanted to divorce his wife.
Sharkey used his position at school to look up M.S.'s schedule and pull her out of classes to spend time with her in his office, according to the complaint.
The mother says students and teachers noticed the special attention Sharkey gave to M.S. and commented about the unusual amount of time she spent in his office.
She claims students started bullying and harassing her daughter because of the relationship, and called her names such as "whore" and "home-wrecker."
In April, a teacher reported to administrators that Sharkey was having a sexual relationship with M.S., but the school failed to conduct a proper investigation, according to the lawsuit.
The mother claims administrators interrogated her daughter and her classmates in Sharkey's presence, did not search M.S.'s phone or ask her if Sharkey had touched her inappropriately, and concluded that Sharkey was not having a sexual relationship with her.
She claims the school called her and assured her that nothing had been found, and that "they were not going to ruin a man's career over these rumors."
Although four teachers reported the relationship to administrators, the school district failed to report it to law enforcement or the Pennsylvania ChildLine, as required by law, the mother says.
She claims the school failed to discipline or suspend Sharkey, and allowed him to continue to work close to her daughter.
The mother claims the school district has a practice of tolerating inappropriate relationships between teachers or other staff members and students.
The district was sued three years ago in an incident in which another teacher forced a student to perform oral sex on him, according to the lawsuit.
M.S.'s mom claims that while school administrators did nothing about the sexual harassment, students and teachers continued to harass M.S. over her relationship with Sharkey, causing her severe emotional distress.
She says the hostile environment forced her daughter to move to another school district.
Sharkey continued to have contact with M.S. throughout the summer, until a student reported the relationship to a school district resource officer who alerted the police, the mother claims.
Sharkey was arrested by township police in September on charges of having sexual contact with the student, corruption of minors and unlawful contact with minors, and the board accepted his resignation in October, according to the complaint.
M.S.'s mom claims school officials mishandled the investigation and violated her daughter's civil rights by failing to protect her and by creating a hostile education environment.
She seeks compensatory and punitive damages for constitutional violations, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress and battery.
She is represented by Dennis Boyle of Camp Hill, Penn.
School district officials did not reply to requests for comment Thursday.