MCCRACKEN COUNTY, KY — Two local lawyers have filed a lawsuit against the McCracken County School District and the board of education on behalf of a former McCracken County High School student and her parents.
The lawsuit claims the school district and school board acted negligently in their handling of a report of sexual assault the student made. The suit also names former McCracken County High School Principal Michael Ceglinski, former District Superintendent Brian Harper, Director of Pupil Personnel Brian Bowland, teacher Stephanie Carter, guidance counselors Jeremy Watwood and Wendy Watts and assistant principals Elaine Kaye and Molly Goodman.
The lawsuit filed Thursday by attorneys Donna Thorton-Green and Bard Brian centers around the Princekumar Joshi case. Joshi was sentenced in September to two years in jail after he entered an Alford plea to charges of sexual misconduct and tampering with evidence. In February of 2019, investigators said Joshi was an 18-year-old McCracken County High School student when he forced an underage girl to engage in a sex act while he recorded it on his phone.
Thorton-Green and Brian write that the girl first told Stephanie Carter that she felt threatened by Joshi on Feb. 12, 2019. The teacher told her she would have to report it, the lawsuit claims.
On Feb. 15, 2019, the suit says the teacher told the girl "We need to focus on getting him some help," and the girl was called to Watwood's office. Watwood and Watts were both present. The suit says the girl was asked to recount the alleged assault, which happened on Feb. 6, and she did. The suit says the girl was asked to provide a written statement, and Watts told her, "Boys will be boys and men will be men, so we have to get to the bottom of this." The girl wrote a two-page statement, the suit says, and Goodman was called into the office to read it. The suit says Goodman asked the girl if what happened was consensual, and the girl said no. Goodman left the office with the statement in hand, the suit says. That same day, the suit says the girl saw Ceglinski go into his office with Watwood and Watts.
Later on the 15th, the suit says Kaye called the girl into her office. The assistant principal asked the girl if her statement was true and whether what happened was "nonconsensual." The suit says the girl asked "If I say yes, what does that mean?" and Kaye told her, "If you say yes, it's out of our hands and we report it to the authorities." The suit says the girl said "no" out of fear and distress. The suit says Kaye accused the girl of skipping school to meet Joshi at the time the alleged assault happened, and that "Now me and Mrs. Goodman will be talking about three days of in-school detention." The lawsuit says the girl had never been in trouble at school before, and she fell to the floor in tears. The suit says Watts asked the girl if she needed counseling, and she declined.
The lawsuit says the defendants did not contact the girl's parents or the authorities on the 15th. The suit says the girl later told her parents about the alleged assault on Feb. 17, 2019. That same day, the McCracken County Sheriff's Department began investigating her complaint. Joshi was charged on the 19th. Ceglinski and Bowland were charged on the 19th with criminal misconduct and failure to report child dependent neglect/abuse, but those charges were later dropped.
The suit accuses the defendants of bullying and threatening the girl with detention to try to maintain her silence and protect the school district's image.
The lawsuit claims the district violated state mandatory reporting laws, failed in their duties to report sexual abuse, to properly train staff to report sexual abuse, to properly supervise the safety of a minor and to follow the district's own policy to report sexual abuse.
The suit also claims the defendants "outrageously orchestrated with intention to conceal public knowledge of any sexual abuse incidents occurring at the McCracken County High School, and conducted a bad faith investigation without any intention to make reports required by statute and its own policy."
The suit says when the girl returned to school after Ceglinski and Bowland were charged, she no longer felt comfortable or safe communicating with school counselors or house principals at the high school. The suit says the girl began experiencing panic with triggers at school. It says she received negative comments from peers and teachers, including a male teacher who allegedly said he “did not want to end up on the news.”
The lawsuit says the girl has required ongoing psychological counseling related to the assault and to what happened when she reported it.
“The defendants publicly created and encouraged an environment that led to (the girl’s) shame in making a report of her sexual abuse,” the lawsuit alleges. “Defendants did not express empathy or support for (her), public or otherwise, but rather focused solely on their individual predicament in having charges made against them. Defendants even orchestrated a ‘high-five’ cheer between Ceglinski and the student body upon Ceglinski’s return to school following dismissal of his charges.”
The suit asks for compensatory damages for the harm the girl and her family suffered and punitive damages for the misconduct the defendants are accused of. The suit does not name a monetary amount for the damages sought.
You can read the lawsuit in full in the document below.