HOUSTON (CN) – Parents claim in court that their son’s fourth-grade teacher at Trinity Lutheran School had her class start a pen pal correspondence with an accused child molester without telling them, and he shared the letters with other jail inmates convicted of sex crimes against children.
John and Jane Doe sued Trinity Lutheran Church / The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod dba Trinity Lutheran School, in Harris County Court.
Jane Doe on her own behalf and as next friend of the couple’s children, Child Doe 1 and Child Doe 2, who both attended the school until the pen pal assignment was made known to parents.
The Does claim Trinity pastor Michael Dorn had a lax policy on protecting students from child abusers, as he was aware that 4th-grade teacher Laura Perry’s fiancé, Blake Perry, had been indicted for possessing child pornography in Harris County, Texas.
Neither Dorn, Laura Perry nor Blake Perry are defendants in the lawsuit.
“The only action admitted by Dorn to have been taken was to tell Blake Perry that he was to have no interaction with children, and then to rely on his trustworthiness that he would abide,” according to the complaint. “Upon information and belief, this recommendation was widely ignored, that Blake Perry had contact with the children’s classrooms and may have even participated, while under indictment, in the coaching of children’s sports at Trinity. This was first made known to the parents generally, and the adult plaintiffs here, at a meeting headed by Dorn on March 26, 2012.
“Further, and more alarmingly, Laura Perry proposed a classroom activity by her 9- and 10-year-old students to begin a pen-pal relationship with an individual awaiting trial for child molestation in Comal County, Texas. This individual, Ricky Rea Rowlett, was charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child, a crime for which he was convicted on March 22 (Exhibit 2 as is readily available in the public records accessible online).
“This proposed contact was cleared through the pastor of the church, Michael Dorn and through the principal of the school, Amy Boatman.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
The Does say the information about Rowlett was publicly available through a simple Google search, “but Boatman and Dorn failed to take the time or care to research it.”
Boatman is not a defendant in the Does’ lawsuit.
The complaint continues: “In all other instances of children’s contact with persons not affiliated with the school, permission slips were sent to parents for contact to be approved upon notice and full disclosure to parents. Trinity did not do so here.
“Lesson plans and school subject matter information were provided to the parents by Internet, handouts and internal notification systems (RenWeb) by the day and week. No mention was made by Trinity regarding this scheme to have minor children make this contact with an accused child molester.” (Parentheses in original.)
The Does claim that Laura Perry lied to her students about why Rowlett was in jail.
“The children were told by Laura Perry that Rickey Rea Rowlett had kidnapped his grandchildren to keep them from harm by parents or others. In reality, Rowlett had been accused of aggravated sexual assault (continuous child sex abuse with a victim under 14) of his grandchildren,” according to the complaint.
“Laura Perry had her children, as a project to obtain a grade in the classroom, participate in an open writing campaign with Rowlett by which the children, including Child Doe 1 would give their personal information to Rowlett and Rowlett would respond with warm and encouraging letters to the children, such as Child Doe 1, allowing Rowlett to establish a rapport with the children and establishing them as potential future victims of his and others.” (Parentheses in complaint.)
The Does claim that to get the children’s letters past the Comal County Sheriff’s Department, “Laura Perry would give them [to] her father, who would repackage them in a larger envelope or package for delivery to Rowlett to avoid detection as ‘contraband’ by the jail.”
The complaint continues: “In the Comal County jail, all persons charged with child or sexual crimes were kept out of general population, but were segregated together with contact and communications between them. The letters from these children, containing full names, ages, and locations where the children could be found could be, and upon information and belief were, distributed freely among alleged and convicted criminals of all sorts of sexual crimes against children. The Comal County jail was also a potential conduit for this private information on minor children into the Texas Department of Criminal Justice generally.”
“The children were primed by Laura Perry and the administration of Trinity into defenders of the character of Rowlett, perhaps even being fashioned such that their letters could be presented in court to assist in Rowlett’s lower punishment, innocence finding and/or early release in opposition to the law enforcement attempts of the Comal County District Attorney’s office. Laura Perry’s father, who assisted Trinity in the facilitation of communications to Rowlett, testified at Rowlett’s trial on Rowlett’s behalf.
“On March 22, 2012, Rowlett was convicted of Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child Victim Under 14 by a jury and was sentenced to 50 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. (TDCJ).
“On that same day, the Comal County Sheriff’s Department located in Rowlett’s possession on his transport to TDCJ, several communications in letter form to and from the minor child students of Laura Perry at Trinity. Included were communications to and from Child Doe 1 with his identification by name, school location, interests and other personal information.
“Within 30 minutes of that discovery, the elected district attorney of Comal County, the Hon. Jennifer Tharp, in order to protect these children including the children plaintiffs here, was attempting to notify Trinity of this breach on their part and the need to act. Upon information and belief, Trinity downplayed the discovery and for days attempted to downplay the concerns of law enforcement. Even Dorn, who was out of town for two days from March 22, 2012 to March 26, 2012, [sic] failed to take immediate action, to remain in town and to consider the matter seriously.
“Dorn appointed himself as investigator of his own failures and the failures of others in this matter. …
“On March 26, 2012, Dorn convened a meeting with the affected parents at which he claimed he was heading the investigation, in which he defended Rowlett as being innocent until proven guilty, in which he defended Laura Perry and her actions, during which he defended Blake Perry as innocent until proven guilty and a man to be trusted, and during which he allowed the new substitute teacher replacing Laura Perry while she is/was on suspension to defend Laura Perry’s actions in the classroom. At that meeting it became clear that Trinity had no policies to protect children, that the actions and inaction in revealing minor child information to alleged (now convicted) child molesters was condoned, approved and encouraged, the action in allowing an accused child pornographer to have access to children was prohibited but that prohibition not enforced and the attempt by a so-called investigation to hide, conceal and protect those who were participants was in full swing,” the complaint states.
The Does say that due to the outrage parents expressed at the meeting on Monday, March 26, Trinity fired Laura Perry, and agreed to have a counselor come into the classroom and counsel the children.
However, the Does say: “Boatman and Dorn remain employed and have not been terminated for their involvement in what was a concentrated scheme of malfeasance, fraud and negligence that resulted in funneling of private information of minor children, including Child Doe 1, to a child molester whereby he began to develop the children into potential victims for his own devices and those of his jail mates.
“Trinity further allowed Laura Perry during her employ, with permission or without proper oversight, to plant in the children that Rowlett was an innocent protector of children to be believed and warmly received, placing him on a pedestal of trust. On Laura Perry’s absence from the classroom for the reasons disclosed, the children, including Child Doe 1 were thereafter left to believe that they were at fault for Rowlett’s conviction, for Laura Perry’s termination from employ, for their own disclosure of private information, for exposing themselves and their families to the ‘monsters’ in the criminal justice system and for other clear emotional harms.”
The Does say that Rowlett appealed his conviction.
They seek punitive damages for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and vicarious liability.
They also seek disgorgement of all tuition they paid the school. (Graph 6.05)
They are represented by Charles Peckham.
The only defendants in the case are “Trinity Lutheran Church (The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) dba Trinity Lutheran School.”