Parents of 22 Springboro elementary school students filed a lawsuit claiming the school district and its leaders failed to protect the children from a former teacher accused of sexually abusing them in class.
John Austin Hopkins, 25, of Springboro, was indicted this year on 36 counts of gross sexual imposition on 28 girls in his first-grade gym class at Clearcreek Elementary School.
The lawsuit, filed Friday and amended Monday, also names the Springboro Community City Schools, former Superintendent Daniel Schroer and Carrie Corder, principal at Clearcreek Elementary, where the alleged crimes occurred.
“The primary defendant is the school system, and then the former superintendent and then the principal. John Hopkins is mentioned last,” Hopkins’ criminal lawyer, David Chicarelli, said.
The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati claims, among other things, that Hopkins installed a doorbell on the gymnasium door to alert him when school staff wanted access and locked the classroom door to keep out others.
Also Monday, lawyer Angela Wallace filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the Springboro school district was violating the parents’ rights by failing to turn over surveillance video involving Hopkins and their children.
“We tried to reach a resolution informally with the school and were unable to do so,” Angela Wallace said.
The district declined to comment Monday, citing “pending litigation.”
The parents in the civil case want the federal judge to elevate the case to a class action.
While the lawsuit is brought on behalf of 22 students, the proposed class includes “all female students in the Springboro Community City School District that were enrolled in the first grade at Clearcreek Elementary during the 2018-2019 school year and suffered sexual contact by John Austin Hopkins, and the guardian(s) of those students.”
The proposed class also includes “parents and natural guardians of female first-grade students that attended Clearcreek Elementary during the 2018-2019 school year, referred to collectively as child victims and individually as Child Victim A through L,” according to the lawsuit.
The federal court is asked to accept the complaint, filed with the parents identified “pseudonymously, as each of their minor children is a victim of child sexual abuse. Disclosure of plaintiff’s identities would reveal information of the utmost intimacy.”
Tom Hagel, a law professor emeritus at the University of Dayton, said lawyers involved in cases resulting in related criminal and civil court actions sometimes wait for the first case filed to run its course before taking action.
“There are certain advantages to waiting,” Hagel said, including seeing what evidence and witnesses are brought forward.
However, Hagel said, “There’s no reason to wait,” in cases where the actions are brought in different courts and are based on different kinds of allegations.
“It’s not the norm,” he added.
Gym class door locked
“With knowledge of Springboro administration, including Schroer and Corder, Hopkins kept the door to the gymnasium locked during classes, which prevented access by Springboro personnel. With knowledge of Springboro administration, including Schroer and Corder, Hopkins installed a doorbell on the exterior of the gymnasium door to alert him when any Springboro personnel wanted to access the gymnasium,” according to the lawsuit.
School officials previously indicated other Springboro classrooms had doorbells.
“The gymnasium did have a doorbell, however, it did not signal when people entered. Based on the investigation, and evaluation walk-throughs by administration, the gymnasium door was never locked during class time,” Scott Marshall, the district’s communications coordinator said in a June 17 email.
“Other teachers’ classrooms had a doorbell (not all), as classroom doors (not the gymnasium) are typically closed and locked during class,” Marshall added in June.
Hopkins’ resignation was accepted by the district on March 13.
He was also employed “as its long-term substitute physical education teacher at Clearcreek Elementary during the 2017-2018 school year,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit claims that “due to Hopkins’ relationships with teachers and former administration of Springboro,” Schroer directed a committee to hire Hopkins “irrespective of his qualifications or background.”
The lawsuit claims Hopkins had sexual contact with each of the victims.
Security camera footage sought
“Many children were subjected to repeated sexual contact by Hopkins,” according to the lawsuit.
In addition, the lawsuit claims, “some child victims were subjected to sexual contact by Hopkins before December 2018. These instances of sexual contact are believed to have been recorded by security cameras, but no video proof of those instances remain as Springboro purports to have destroyed all security camera footage recorded before December 2018.”
The school district is violating federal law by failing to release a “copy of the video footage related to his or her daughter,” according to the lawsuit and emphasized in Monday’s filing with the U.S. Department of Education.
The lawsuit claims the sexual harassment experienced by the victims was discrimination under federal law and holds the district, Schroer and Corder responsible.
The lawsuit claims they failed “to maintain, provide and otherwise ensure a safe area” at the school.
Schroer and Corder “had, or should have had, actual knowledge” and “their actions or failures to act amount to deliberate indifference.”
Schroer, the superintendent, was placed on paid administrative leave on Aug. 16, and then resigned, as the district investigated “financial allegations” brought against him, according to district statements.
A district spokesman at the time said the resignation had no connection to the Hopkins case.
On Monday, Corder did not respond to a request for comment, and Schroer could not be reached.
Hopkins’ sexual harassment “was so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it “deprived” the children “of their constitutional right to a safe learning environment, free from harassment, and the education opportunities or benefits provided by the school,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also accused the district of failing to provide staff training on “ child sexual abuse awareness, identification, and prevention.”
It claims as Hopkins’s supervisor, Corder “acted with a malicious purpose, in bad faith, or in a wanton and reckless manner in failing to monitor, discover, and report Hopkins’ inappropriate and illegal sexual conduct.”
“By failing to report Hopkins’ inappropriate and illegal sexual conduct,” Corder “breached” her legal duties, according to the lawsuit.
Prevention plan sought
The lawsuit, filed by Wallace and the Cincinnati-based Blessing Law Firm, also calls for damages from Hopkins for assault and battery causing “physical and mental injury” to the victims.
In addition, the children and their parents or guardians “and those similarly situated sustained severe personal injuries, have and will be prevented from attending to their normal affairs, and have incurred medical and other expenses,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also urges the federal court to order the school district “to develop or adopt curriculum for purposes of training all staff in the prevention of child abuse.
“Springboro has failed to properly train its staff on the identification and prevention of child abuse. As a direct result of Springboro’s failure, Hopkins’ conduct was allowed to continue for more than 12 months,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit calls for compensatory and punitive damages, attorney fees and expenses and “all other relief to which plaintiffs may be entitled.”
Hopkins remains free on house arrest, while lawyers in the criminal case fight over evidence to be shared, including hours of surveillance video from his classroom.
Chicarelli said Hopkins would not be deposed in the civil case until the criminal case was completed.
Thank you for reading the Springfield News-Sun and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Springfield News-Sun. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.