Raleigh superintendent says teacher is on leave

Chris Jackson/The Register-HeraldLiberty High School in Glen Daniel on Wednesday.

A former Liberty High School student is suing Raleigh County Board of Education and her high school principal for sexual harassment and privacy invasion, which she charges in a lawsuit violated her federal civil rights and prevented her from completing high school.

The suit, filed Tuesday in Raleigh Circuit Court by Beckley attorney Paul Roop, charges that Liberty High School history teacher and tennis coach Adam Acord Jr. targeted the female student, identified as "Jane Doe" in the lawsuit, for sexual harassment when she was a freshman in 2016 by sending her letters and sitting with her and talking to her personally when he was monitoring another class. The suit also says he told the high school girl that it would be "a couple years" before the two could have a relationship.

Roop's lawsuit alleges that Acord used his position as a teacher to "groom" students for sexually gratifying situations.

"Teacher Acord engaged in a sexually harassing, manipulative, and sexually exploitive relationship with JaneDoe accompanied with sexually-gratifying contact with Jane Doe on multiple occasions while she was a high school student," the suit alleges.

The suit says that Principal Lori Knight and other school district officials and administrators "showed deliberate indifference to actual notice of sex-based discrimination, sexual harassment, abuse, boundary crossing, and Acord’s inappropriate relationships with Jane Doe, and other female Liberty students."

Roop also stated in the lawsuit that he Raleigh County Board of Education was negligent in its supervision and control of Acord.

Neither Raleigh Schools Superintendent David Price, Assistant Superintendent Randy Atkins or Knight were available for comment on Wednesday.

The lawsuit makes allegations that a harassing culture had developed at the school before "Jane Doe" entered as a freshman in 2016 and encountered Acord, who was her history and LINKS teacher. The lawsuit identifies Acord as a tennis coach at the school.

In one prior case, the suit alleges, Acord had groomed a female student until she was 18 and then had sex with her minutes after she was legally an adult.

The suit alleges that, starting in 2010, at least six teachers and students had reported to Liberty administrators that Acord's behavior with certain students — all of them female — was inappropriate.

"Acord was very popular with many female students at Liberty, and Acord engaged in flirtatious and boundary crossing conduct with these female students in an open and notorious manner," the suit alleges. "This inappropriate conduct with minor females was grooming behavior, used by Acord to manipulate Liberty female students into sexually harassing, abusive and exploitive relationships.

"This open and notorious grooming behavior by Acord included special attention, excessive hugging, physical closeness, private interactions, and an inordinate amount of attention directed entirely at female students.

"This behavior was ignored by Liberty officials and administrators.

"Acord’s open, notorious, and continuous sexual harassment and grooming of female students was tolerated and ignored even after complaints were made directly to Principal Lori Knight personally by teachers at Liberty," the suit charges. "Acord was provided unfettered freedom and discretion to sexually harass, groom, and manipulate female students, including Jane Doe."

"Grooming" is defined by child sex abuse experts behaviors as behaviors used by predatory adults to gain a child's trust so that sexual abuse can occur.

The suit alleges that Acord pretended to be the age of the mothers of at least two of his reported victims, as a way of ingratiating himself with the victims' guardians.

Grooming is not recognized under state code as a crime, although Fayette County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Harrah had in February publicly expressed a desire for a code to criminalize some grooming behaviors.  

The Liberty lawsuit alleges that in 2014, one female student told then-principal Rocky Cangemi that Acord had sexually harassed two females classmates. The student said that an unidentified Raleigh BOE official later contacted her in person to tell her that the claim was being investigated.

The official did not ask her any additional questions and did not contact the two alleged victims, the suit charges.

According to the suit, Acord  "groomed" one female student for several months and maintained the contact after she graduated in 2015. Within minutes of the former student turning 18 after graduation, Acord allegedly had sexual intercourse with the teen.

When Jane Doe entered Liberty as a freshman in August 2016, she was under a doctor's care for anxiety and depression, according to the suit. 

The suit states the teenager was "generally insecure and vulnerable to the tactics employed by Acord. 

Roop charges in the suit that Acord asked students to call him by his first name and that he played crude and explicit songs on his Macbook during class, often singing the lyrics.

Acord assigned students to write an essay entitled "Who I Am." The suit alleges that he used the assignment as a way of identifying female children who may be vulnerable to grooming "for sexual gratification" and that he lied to Jane Doe's mom about his age so that he would have something in common with the mother and gain her trust.

In Jane Doe's sophomore year, the suit alleges, Acord was her history and LINKS teacher. LINKS pairs a students with one adult teacher to advance student success, the suit reports.

In the 2017-2018 school year, the suit charges, Acord began asking Jane Doe how she was doing and complimenting her on her appearance. He pulled her bookbag strings and told her to go to the gymnasium to sit with him instead of going to lunch. The suit alleges that Acord sat with Jane Doe in the gym bleachers while he was assigned to supervise students in the gym. Jane Doe skipped lunch and sat with him on a daily basis throughout the fall of 2017, according to the suit.

"Routinely, Acord bragged to Jane Doe and other students about his money and made it known that he had heaped lavish gifts on his ex-girlfriend who he said was a former student," the suit charges, adding that the "ex-girlfriend" was the victim from 2015.

He began asking Jane Doe, who was then 16, to give him hugs, which involved "full frontal body" contact.

For Christmas 2017, Acord allegedly gave the teen perfume and body wash from Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body, an insulated mug, candy and a $50 Cheddar's gift card. In a card, he allegedly wrote to her that they had to wait two years "to be together."

He allegedly gave a similar bag of gifts to another female Liberty student in 2017 for Christmas, the suit alleges. 

The suit reports that Liberty science teacher Elizabeth Criddle learned of the gifts and reported it to Knight. She told the principal that she believed Acord's interactions with Jane Doe were inappropriate.

Knight witnessed Jane Doe walking to her school bus carrying the gifts and saw Acord hug the girl, the suit alleges, but did not intervene or launch an investigation into Criddle's complaint.

Jane Doe's mother saw the gift and told Jane Doe she would report the issue to school officials. The girl asked her mother not to report it, and the mother allegedly agreed on the condition that Jane Doe would avoid personal interactions with Acord.

The suit states that the girl's mother believed the gift was the full extent of Acord's inappropriate contact with her daughter at that time.

During the spring semester 2018, the suit alleges, Jane Doe distanced herself from Acord's "grooming" of her, and Acord retaliated by humiliating her and invading her privacy while she was in a class that he taught.

The suit states that Acord called Jane Doe to his desk in May 2018 and asked her if she were dating a male student at Liberty. When Jane Doe replied that she was, Acord allegedly said, in the presence of other students, "Wow, (the boy) is too good for you" and looked away from her dismissively.

Other students were staring at Jane Doe, and she returned to her seat and cried, the suit alleges.

"Jane Doe continued to be very hurt and upset by the treatment she received from Teacher Acord who, up to that point, had been her admirer and, as far as she knew, her friend," the suit states.

On another occasion, the lawsuit charges, Acord told the class that Jane Doe had performed badly on a test he had administered, and he published her score to the class. 

The suit states that publication of her academic record to other students was a violation of Jane Doe's privacy rights and an attempt to inflict psychological damage on her.

"After the public humiliations," the suit states, "Jane Doe became more withdrawn and isolated, had trouble eating and discontinued taking her medications for anxiety and depression."

Early in the 2018-2019 school year, Jane Doe told her mother that she wanted to quit school, the suit states. The two met with Knight and a guidance counselor. Although her mother tried to talk her into staying in school, the suit alleges, Jane Doe told the principal that she would quit.

The suit states that Knight had been aware of Criddle's report and Acord's history at the school but did not mention it to Jane Doe or to her mother.

"With full knowledge of the circumstances of Acord's involvement with Jane Doe, Principal Knight concluded the meeting and Jane Doe's public education by saying, 'Well, it's your future. Here's the form,' " the suit alleges.

The lawsuit states that Jane Doe quit school due to the hostile environment and sexual harassment created by Acord's alleged grooming, manipulation and psychological abuse of her, which Raleigh BOE had been on notice of since at least December 2017.

Jane Doe is seeking a jury trial for unspecified compensatory damages.

The suit charges that Raleigh BOE, Knight and Acord violated federal laws related to reporting of sexual harassment under Title IX, placed female students at a heightened risk for sexually manipulation and harassment, was negligent in addressing Acord's alleged behavior appropriately, provided negligent training for employees like Knight on how to address instances of reported sexual harassment and exploitive behavior and intentionally violated Jane Doe's privacy rights.

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