CHESTER, Vt. — A mother and her five children are suing the Green Mountain Unified School District, school board, the supervisory union and administrators of the district for failing to protect the children after one reported being raped by another student to the police.
The suit, filed in the United District Court of Vermont this week, alleges that after the oldest daughter reported the rape, other students harassed and bullied her and her siblings, and that the principal and other administrators failed to protect them from the bullying. According to the suit, the district’s actions were so ineffectual that all but one of the ungraduated siblings moved to another school to escape the harassment.
The plaintiffs allege that the district failed to provide them with an education as required by state law and failed to protect them according to its own policies on bullying and harassment. Those policies require the district to investigate bullying and harassment, provide for the safety of the victims, and enforce a safe school culture.
Skylar White, 18 and a few weeks from graduating, attended a party with other GMU students on Saturday, May 5, 2017. According to the court document, White said alcohol was consumed at the party and she decided not to drive home. Ryan Stocker, another student she had known since childhood, allegedly offered to let her sleep in a bed. White said she woke up to Stocker raping her.
On that Monday, White reported the rape to her guidance counselor. The police were contacted and a police officer came to the school to interview White. A day or two later, Venissa White, Skylar’s mother, requested a meeting with Principal Thomas Ferenc, Associate Principal Michael Ripley, and Pamela O’Neil, Director of Guidance, as well as the police officer who had spoken with Skylar.
According to the suit, not only did the school administrators express no concern for Skylar’s well-being at that meeting, but Ripley suggested she might be lying.
Shortly after Skylar White’s report to the police, three other girls came forward, also alleging Stocker had sexually assaulted them, according to the suit.
Meanwhile, “Skylar was told (by Ripley, Ferenc and O’Neil) they could not justify removing Stocker from the first period class they shared together. Instead, she was told she could collect the class work and complete it in the library during first period, which she did,” according to the suit.
Ripley also allegedly told Venissa White there was nothing the school could do to protect her daughter, since Stocker had not been formally charged. The burden of avoiding Stocker was placed on Skylar White, who found even though she had retreated to the library, Stocker came into the library on at least four occasions during first period. “Although Skylar reported these incidents, nothing was done to prohibit Stocker from entering the library.”
The suit further alleges that, instead of following its own policy to investigate such incidents, the school did nothing. For the rest of the school year, White “had to walk by Stocker in the hallway and was subjected to intimidation, harassment and ridicule. Specifically, Mr. Stocker and his friends would stand in front of Skylar’s locker and talk about the assault in front of her.”
Ripley allegedly told Stocker to stop harassing White and to stop standing in front of her locker.
Stocker was arrested June 21, 2017 and charged with two counts of sexual assault. On Aug. 17 Stocker was arrested again and charged with kidnapping, attempted aggravated sexual assault, lewd and lascivious contact with a child, and furnishing alcohol to a minor, related to an incident in Ludlow in 2015. (In October 2018, Stocker accumulated new charges: obstruction of justice and violations of conditions of release, for allegedly attempting to contact a victim and get her to change her story. In January, two new felony charges were filed against Stocker, bringing the number of victims alleging sexual assault to four.)
Stocker remains free on $100,000 bail under the supervision of his father.
The suit details the school district’s policy on harassment, including: “The district will take reasonable steps to prevent any retaliation against the student (who was the subject of the harassment)” and that the district would warn the student accused of bullying or harassment. “A series of escalating consequences may be necessary if the initial steps are ineffective in stopping the hazing, harassment or bullying,” according to the policy.
However, the plaintiffs allege that over the next school year, they were the targets of escalating harassment. Stocker’s friends allegedly took their anger out on them, cursing them and discussing the rape in front of them. In October, Venissa White told the school administration her kids were being harassed; they told her to get the kids to file a complaint.
However, the complaint was reviewed by the district, which “determined this conduct did not constitute harassment.”
In December 2017 Stocker was bailed out of jail. At the same time, Venissa White asked for a meeting with school officials: “I am overwhelmed and have no idea how to protect my children from this,” wrote White.
Despite some steps taken by Ripley, the harassment continued; the White children made complaints detailing the harassment, but finally stopped going to school in January. In February the Whites asked for permission to move to Springfield High School to escape the harassment.
The harassment described in the suit included: Students following one of the White children, calling her names and discussing the rape; incidents of profanity, profane name-calling; students claiming to have a petition to have all the Whites expelled; students using a roulette-type wheel to choose which form of harassment to inflict on the White children; following one of the children and repeating Stocker’s name at her. After Stocker’s arrest and suspension from the school, various of his friends allegedly used their phones to Facetime him from the library while the plaintiffs were present.
Venissa White is seeking a trial by jury.