The retired Spokane superintendent and the Spokane High School principal — who is on leave — were in a Christian County courtroom Tuesday.
Both the men, Daryl Bernskoetter and Chris Kohl, were indicted in late 2017 on two counts of failure of a mandated reporter to report child abuse stemming from an alleged incident nearly a year ago.
If convicted, each man faces up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000 on each misdemeanor charge.
The indictments state that Bernskoetter and Kohl had “reasonable cause to suspect” that a male student — who was not named in court records — “had been subject to abuse by two adult high school students at Spokane High School” and failed to report the incident to the Missouri Department of Social Services’ Children’s Division.
Bernskoetter, who retired as superintendent of the 700-student district at the end of the 2016-17 school year, and Kohl have pleaded not guilty to all counts. As school employees, they were mandated reporters and required, by law, to notify authorities of any allegations or reasonable suspicion of child abuse.
No action was taken in court Tuesday. Judge Jennifer Growcock ordered the two men to attend a hearing at 10 a.m. March 22.
The Spokane school district, Bernskoetter, Kohl and Zach Leonard — a former coach and teacher — were also named last year in a civil lawsuit stemming from the same alleged incident.
The civil case is still making its way through the court system. Also assigned to Judge Growcock, a hearing has not yet been set.
The suit, filed by the parent of a former Spokane High student, accused school officials of failing to protect his son after three baseball players allegedly pinned the teen in a dugout, touched him in a “sexually overt manner” and shoved a dirty condom in his mouth.
In the Aug. 25 suit, the parent alleged the three school officials failed to protect his son from months of harassment and intimidation that followed; failed to comply with board policy prohibiting bullying; and did not report the sexual assault of another student to the proper authorities.
Bernskoetter and Leonard left the district before the suit was filed. Kohl, who is still listed as the high school principal, was placed on paid administrative leave.
Terry Jamieson, who has been superintendent since July 1, was also in court Tuesday to watch the proceedings. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The civil suit alleges at least five students were present during a February 2017 incident in the baseball dugout — three who pinned down the teen, a fourth who watched and told the victim to be quiet and a fifth, a freshman, who was listed a witness.
The suit alleges that the freshman witness was “sexually assaulted, months later, by some of the same perpetrators.” The assault allegedly was reported to Kohl, a former Springfield school employee who was in his first year as principal of Spokane High.
According to the suit, Kohl, a mandated reporter, failed to hotline the allegation. The district instead opted to handle the matter “in house” — giving the students allegedly involved a five-day suspension, reduced to three days. None of the students allegedly involved in the assault were required to miss baseball games.
According to the suit, rumors circulated around the school regarding the sexual assault and “finally, a group of teachers made the hotline call a week later.”
After the call, the state Children’s Division started an investigation and the freshman who was the alleged victim revealed that he had witnessed the earlier incident in the dugout, the suit says.
According to the lawsuit, the Christian County Sheriff’s Office demanded the district turn over all of its records concerning the two assaults but school officials initially refused, complying only after detectives threatened to get a warrant.
The suit also alleges that district officials warned students that the sheriff’s office was investigating. That warning, according to the suit, led to “pervasive name calling” of the two victims.
The suit alleges that Leonard, the coach, did nothing to discourage or address the behavior and, during a field meeting, reportedly told the team to stay mum because “whatever happens on the baseball field should stay on the baseball field.”
In the spring, the parent who filed the lawsuit transferred his children to another school district. In the suit, he says his son has required therapy and other treatment and is seeking an unspecified amount of damages.
Survivors of sexual assault and harassment are expected to attend a #MeToo Survivors march on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles.
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