A Kansas high school student and her mother are suing the Smith Center School District and an assistant high school football coach who is accused of sexually harassing the girl in front of classmates and school employees.
A federal Title IX lawsuit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., claims that Brock Hutchinson, a longtime coach at Smith Center High School, continuously made lewd comments to and about the girl. In the suit the girl is referred to as Jane Doe.
Title IX protects against gender discrimination including sexual assault and harassment that interferes with a student’s right to educational opportunities. In her lawsuit Doe claims that as a result of sexual harassment from Hutchinson, she was depressed, missed school and was ultimately forced to withdraw from the district.
“I feel like we didn’t have a choice,” Angela Harrison, Jane Doe’s mother, said about suing the coach and the district. “It was the last thing we wanted to do. But we asked the district so many times to fix it and they didn’t.”
Jane Doe left the high school in her senior year and is finishing her final year at a neighboring district to avoid further harassment at Smith Center, her mom said.
The school district referred questions about the allegations to the district attorney, Michael-Shannon McDowell, who was not available for comment Friday afternoon.
Hutchinson, 42, said he had no idea such a lawsuit had been filed, and he was surprised it had been. “I have no comment,” Hutchinson said when asked about specific allegations made in the lawsuit.
The suit claims that Hutchinson, who in 2008 was a member of the coaching staff that led the Smith Center football team on what was then the nation’s longest winning streak, was “commonly known” among his fellow school district employees, “to routinely engage” in sexual conversation with students under his supervision. The suit claims he once asked one of his students in gym class to “twerk,” while doing a hand stand.
According to the suit, in 2014 in front of a group of students Hutchinson asked Jane Doe’s boyfriend, a member of the football team, what kind of sexual acts Jane Doe had performed. And another time, when a ball rolled through Jane Doe’s legs during a gym activity, the suit said that Hutchinson announced to the entire class that “she’s used to having balls between her legs.”
The suit claims that a teacher whom Doe told about the harassment responded to the student, “That’s just Brock being Brock.”
And it says that school officials, when informed about the coach’s alleged behavior, ignored the student’s complaint. The suit alleges that students, school employees and Hutchinson himself later retaliated against Jane Doe.
After Doe and her mother complained to district officials about Hutchinson, the suit says, Doe’s car tires were slashed in the school parking lot, she was stalked by Hutchinson, she was intimidated and interrogated by school employees, and students and pressured her to apologize to the coach because she was “just being dramatic.”
Hutchinson has been coaching at Smith Center for 19 years. His father had previously coached the football team for 30 years.
During the school’s 2008 football winning streak, the Smith Center High School football team was featured in Sports Illustrated and was the subject of a book by a New York Times writer titled “Our Boys: A Perfect Season on the Plains with the Smith Center Redmen.”
In this Kansas town of 1,600 people, where the school district is the largest employer and many of the teachers and coaches’ family members are on the football team, “the weekly high school football game is the fiber of the region’s social fabric,” the lawsuit says.
The suit seeks undetermined financial damages for medical bills, emotional suffering and attorney fees.