Pair of lawsuits allege Metro Nashville Schools failed to address student harassment

By: - June 14, 2022 6:59 am
(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Davidson County Board of Education (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Parents of two Metro Nashville Public School students filed lawsuits claiming that elementary school officials failed to prevent their daughters from facing continuous sexual harrassment from other students or to address the issue.

The two separate lawsuits were filed on behalf of students that attended Sylvan Park Paideia Elementary and Carter-Lawrence Elementary.

On June 1, parents of a minor child identified as HMT filed a lawsuit against MNPS after their daughter was sexually harrassed online by a male student using school email addresses. 

In March 2021, HMT was a third grader at Sylvan Park Paideia Design Center and began communicating with a first-grade boy at the school. Their communication was monitored by HMT’s parents, which they said was initially innocent, according to the lawsuit. 

On May 4, 2021, HMT’s parents discovered that their daughter had received 15 emails that included several explicit photos of the boy’s penis. HMT’s parents later found that the boy had sent similar emails on April 25 and May 1, 2021. 

HMT lawsuit

After informing the school, officials opened a case with the Tennessee Department of Children’s services and contacted the Metro Nashville Police Department, but HMT’s parents later turned their attention to the school’s online safety precautions. 

Officials with MNPS’s information technology department informed the school’s principal that firewalls prevent students from visiting certain websites, but when HMT’s parents asked about the school’s email communications, they were told that no measures existed to deter sexually-explicit material from being sent. 

IT officials also informed the parents that they had no idea how much sexually-explicit material was stored on MNPS’s servers. 

HMT’s parents removed their daughter from school and are seeking compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney fees for trauma and financial challenges stemming from having to homeschool their daughter while working full-time.

A second lawsuit was filed by Latoya Helm against Metro Nashville on May 25 after her daughter faced continuous physical and sexual harrassent from other students at Carter-Lawrence.

According to the lawsuit, Helm’s daughter had been a frequent target of bullying by male students since kindergarten, which eventually progressed to physical attacks. 

The incidents were reported to both the girl’s teacher and the school principal, both of whom developed a safety plan to keep her away from the bullies.

The lawsuit alleges the school did keep the girl’s primary bully away but other male students then began making inappropriate contact, including showing her their genitals. 

According to the lawsuit, an ongoing lack of supervision and enforcement of bullying policies led to a culture that fostered, promoted and escalated a pattern of aggressive behavior among students toward the girl. 

“A safety plan was developed (for the student,)  but a plan is only a solution if it is enforced.  Here, Metro Schools failed and allowed her to suffer harm time and again over an extended period of time.  (Student’s)  mother was a strong advocate for her. She was at the school on a regular basis making complaints and begging for action.  Despite the notice of what was happening, a workable solution was never put in place,” said Ali Toll, an attorney at the Toll Firm representing Helm and her daughter. 

Helm also complained that the school failed to provide feedback on any consequences inflicted upon her daughter’s bullies and that the incidents were not reported to a threat assessment team at Carter-Lawrence.

We cannot comment on the pending litigation other than to note that school officials responded appropriately to the incident by conducting an investigation, working with the parents and students involved, and reporting it to the MNPD, DCS, and district officials,” said Metro Schools spokesman Sean Braisted in a response.  

“Ensuring a safe digital environment is a top priority for our district and technology services team. The district has internet filtering in place for all district devices to block access to harmful materials and has chat filters in place for Teams. We also provide digital citizenship training to students and provide acceptable use policies in the student parent handbook. Additionally, email access has been limited to 3-12 this year now that all students are back in-person. 

“We have been working with a service called Bark to establish a solution for filtering and content moderation within our Office 365 environment, having formalized a data use agreement and working toward implementation of a pilot in our schools,” Braisted wrote.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Dulce Torres Guzman
Dulce Torres Guzman

Dulce has written for the Nashville Scene and Crucero News. A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, she received the John Seigenthaler Award for Outstanding Graduate in Print Journalism in 2016. Torres Guzman is a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She enjoys the outdoors and is passionate about preserving the environment and environmental issues.