GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CN) - Grand Rapids Public Schools and a number of employees violated Title IX of the Civil Rights Act by turning a blind eye to a female teacher's sexual abuse of male students, five of the students and their mothers claim in federal court.
Jamila Williams, a teacher at Grand Rapids University Prep Academy, pleaded no contest to having sex with at least five students aged 15 and 16. She was sentenced to eight to 15 years in prison.
John and James Doe, T.B., U.J. and J.S. and their mothers sued the Grand Rapids Public School District and its superintendent Teresa Weatherall Neal in Michigan federal court on Nov. 11. The suit also names Grand Rapids University Prep Academy principal Daniel Williams, and assistant principals Kenyatta Hill and Larry Johnson in their individual and official capacities.
The boys' 46-page complaint states that the school, which receives Title IX federal funding, ignored grossly inappropriate behavior by math teacher Williams for years.
"Teacher Jamila Williams dressed inappropriately in the workplace, wearing tight and revealing clothing, and made comments about the sexual attractiveness of young male students openly in front of many students during school," the complaint states.
The boys continue: "Williams would 'snap' her thong underwear at the back of her pants in the hallway, which is a teenaged 'booty call' advertising her sexual prowess.
"Williams often would lock the door and turn off the lights in her classroom during the day while alone with male students, something known to 'Rachel,' a GR University Prep office employee and Ms. Teasley, a volunteer who worked in the school office.
"Williams was also known to simply take certain male students off campus during the school day, and not properly sign out students who were not assigned to her - nor account for their whereabouts - which was required by district and school policy," the complaint states.
Both "Rachel" and Teasley reported seeing Williams on the floor with a male student - his head in her lap and the classroom lights off - during the school day. But Williams had the ear of Williams and Hill and "was allowed to do and say things other teachers were not," according to the complaint.
Parents complained after the allegations about Williams came to light. But school officials waited three days to notify the district - a violation of both district policy and state law, the boys claim.
And instead of helping the students, the boys claim that school officials "took overt actions to encourage some of the student victims to leave the school, or made it impossible for them to stay."
The boys continue: "The lack of any affirmative actions by any of the defendants during the school days between May 27, 2013 and June 3, 2013 permitted Williams to engage in efforts to intimidate plaintiffs, continue to sexually abuse them, and try to find out who had 'blown the whistle' on her actions.
"Williams interrupted some of the plaintiffs while in class or taking exams to find out how much information had been shared with parents or authorities while her classroom was watched for her by assistant principal Hill," the boys' complaint states.
Each of the boys shared the same tawdry relationship with Williams, and each of them also suffered academically and emotionally as a result, according to the complaint. And they shared something else: the school failed to provide support.
"No effort was made to help the student victims stay at University Prep, nor was anything done to reach out to the parents or families to assist them with the interruption in the student's access to educational opportunities due to the violations of law and sexual harassment," the complaint states.
The boys say the school went a step further by withholding final report cards, and made it difficult for them to transfer schools after making it clear that they would not be welcome back at University Prep.
They believe that the school's inaction stemmed from the fact that they're male - a clear violation of Title IX, which states that "no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
The victims were discriminated against based on their sex when "defendant school district failed to take immediate, effective remedial steps to investigate and resolve the complaints of sexual harassment and instead acted with deliberate indifference towards the plaintiffs," the complaint says.
A victim's mother confirmed to a local news station that she saw disparate treatment toward her son because he's male.
"Some people say that the boys should be fine because they're boys. But boys who are victims of child sexual abuse, they get hurt, too, and they are affected negatively," she said.
The boys are suing for violations of Title IX and their civil rights, as well as liability for failure to train and supervise and a state law claim of denying equal access to public education. They seek compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction requiring the Grand Rapids Public School District to prevent further sex-based discrimination and harassment.
They are represented locally by Eugenie Eardley, and also by Gloria Allred of the Los Angeles firm Allred, Maroko & Goldberg.