Newton, Ia. – The parents of a boy who described being sexually assaulted by wrestling teammates are upset at the lack of response by Newton school district officials.
On Thursday, the parents provided the Des Moines Register with the first detailed account of what their son, an underclassman, said happened before a Feb. 1 practice.
Multiple wrestlers were involved in committing the assault, the victim’s father said. The incident, he said, took place after coaches opened the wrestling room but no coaches were present.
The victim’s father said he reported the assault immediately to school officials and Newton police.
Since then, he said there has been little communication from the school — although school officials say they’ve taken action that will remain confidential.
Newton police records show an assault report in connection with the incident at 4:34 p.m. Feb. 1. But the victim’s parents said they never completed a sworn statement to police, pending action from the school.
“Every time we go there and bring it up, they tell us, ‘This is a legal matter, and we can’t give you any description,’ ” the victim’s father said of school officials. “Well, I’m sorry, my son is the victim. You can tell me what’s going on in the case. He’s the one who had it done to him.
“I should know about what’s going on in this case.”
The Register’s policy in sexual assault cases is to not publicly identify the victim. In this case, the Register is also not disclosing the parents’ identity, because that would have the same effect.
Newton Community School District Superintendent Steve McDermott disputed the claim that officials failed to respond to the family’s concerns.
An internal investigation of the incident was completed Feb. 7, he said.
“Actions certainly have been taken,” McDermott said Thursday, noting that he could not disclose any disciplinary measures “because of the rights of the students and of staff members involved.”
The victim’s father, however, said he has been told by high school principal Bill Peters that the investigation was ongoing. An attempt Thursday by the Register to meet with Peters was unsuccessful.
An email sent by McDermott to school board members on Feb. 1 references “two unfortunate incidents” that occurred inside Newton schools that day. The email was obtained by the Register through an open records request.
A case involving a middle school teacher who struck a student in the head was mentioned first in McDermott’s email. In this case, school officials acknowledge that the teacher involved was placed on administrative leave.
All references to the second incident were redacted by the school district, but school board member Sheri Benson told the Register on Feb. 11 that the email also included information about a “totally inappropriate” incident at wrestling practice.
Following the redacted portion of the email, McDermott wrote: “Behaviors in both of these incidents will not be tolerated and each has been and will continue to be dealt with as swiftly and decisively as possible, following policy and legal guidelines.”
McDermott’s email also instructed school board members not to talk about either situation.
Newton school board president Andrew Elbert declined to comment Thursday, as did school board member Don Poynter. When reached by phone, board member Dennis Combs deferred comment to McDermott. “That’s not my level of knowledge,” Combs said.
Repeated attempts to reach other school board members were unsuccessful.
The victim’s parents contend such silence has been the norm for the past three weeks.
“They’ve never once called us, sent a letter, sent an email,” the victim’s stepmother said.
The father was irked that two of the wrestlers he said were involved in assaulting his son competed in a Class 3-A district meet Feb. 9 — eight days after the incident.
The victim’s parents also said their son has been teased by other teens since the assault. The incident has become an inside joke among Newton students on Facebook and Twitter, the father said.
“They think it’s funny and cute, pinning people down and thumbing them,” he said.
The father said he has reported other incidents of bullying, with little response from officials.
The son has since had altercations with other students and was suspended.
“Now, he’s putting his hands up,” the father said. “You start punching people.”
Recalling the day of the incident, the victim’s father said he received a frantic phone call from his son, who told him, “I’m done wrestling.” The father said when he got to the school, he sought out 15th-year coach Bill Reed.
“I’m going to the man who is the source,” the father said. “You’re the man who is supposed to be watching my kid. You’re the one who’s got responsibility over my kid.”
He said Reed expressed concern but also feared reprecussions for himself and his staff. On Feb. 11, McDermott confirmed that three assistant coaches — not Reed — were running the wrestling team but did not comment on Reed’s status as coach.
“No comment,” Reed said Thursday when a Register reporter identified himself over the phone. “I’m going to go, bye.”
The victim’s father said he was still mulling whether to pursue charges with police.
But the incident has prompted the family to distance themselves from the situation.
“Our next step is, I’m removing my son from the school,” the father said. “We are also moving out of this town.
“I’m really disappointed in the school district, and I just can’t believe they would allow this to happen and not doing anything about it.”