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Kansas City charter school ordered to pay nearly $1 million to student molested by teacher

Jackson County Courthouse
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR
The Jackson County Courthouse. A jury in Jackson County ordered Hogan Preparatory Academy to pay nearly $1 million to a student molested by a middle school teacher there when she was 11.

Hogan Preparatory Academy will have to pay $950,000 to a former student who alleges a teacher at the middle school sexually harassed and inappropriately touched her when she was 11.

A Kansas City charter school will have to pay nearly $1 million to a former student who alleges she was sexually harassed by a middle school teacher when she was 11 years old.

The former student at Hogan Preparatory Academy said she was singled out and then molested by former teacher Douglas Bliss.

A jury in Jackson County Court found in favor of the former student on claims of discrimination, battery and punitive damages against the charter school on Friday. They awarded her $950,000.

The student, identified as D.W., filed the lawsuit in 2020.

Before the week of March 11, 2018, the lawsuit said Bliss began sending D.W. out of his classroom for discipline problems and failure to complete classwork. The lawsuit said she was previously an honor roll student with above-average grades in Bliss’ classroom and had no discipline issues.

According to the lawsuit, Bliss then began requiring D.W. to stay after class for “make up” work with no other students present.

During one of those “make up” sessions on March 13, the lawsuit alleges that Bliss “placed his hand under her skirt and began fondling and caressing her upper inner thighs and vaginal area.”

When D.W. told Bliss to stop, she says the middle school teacher responded, “Why, this can just be our little secret.”

The lawsuit alleges that the incident caused D.W. “shock, fright, anxiety, emotional pain, suffering, emotional distress and severe and extended depression.”

It also alleged district teachers, students and administrators generally knew Bliss engaged in “inappropriate sexualized behavior,” such as hugging and kissing his boyfriend in front of students and calling students suggestive names like “Daddy.” It claims the district, then-principal Zachary Coughlin and then-vice principal Danielle Blackstock failed to protect D.W. from molestation.

Coughlin and Blackstock were not found liable for negligence charges.

D.W. argued that Bliss’s actions were discriminatory, noting that he did not require male students in his class to stay after school with him for “make up” sessions or caress the reproductive organs of male students.

Dan Curry, who represented D.W., said she and her family were pleased with the verdict and felt like justice had been served.

“Anytime you get a verdict against a school, it's always with the idea that we hope that the school gets better,” Curry said. “We hope that Hogan Preparatory can right the ship there.”

After the incident, D.W. was suspended from school for 10 days and her educational performance began to decline. At the end of the school year, Hogan Prep informed the student’s mother that she would be retained in the seventh grade. The mother responded by removing D.W. from the school.

Keith Cutler, an attorney representing Hogan Prep, said in an emailed statement that since the alleged incident in 2018, the entire leadership team and many staff members are new. However, he said the charter school is disappointed in the trial’s outcome.

“The Children’s Division investigated the claims and determined that there was insufficient evidence that any abuse had occurred, and the allegations were determined to be unsubstantiated,” Cutler wrote in an email to KCUR. “KCPD also investigated the claims and determined that there was insufficient probable cause that an offense occurred. Unfortunately, this evidence was not allowed to be presented to the jury at trial. We maintain that the claims are not true, and remain disputed.”

Cutler said the school is evaluating all legal options, but no decisions have been made.

The verdict comes after the Missouri Charter Public School Commission declared in December that Hogan Prep was on academic probation because of its academic performance and failure to attract and keep staff.

The commission previously ordered the charter school to temporarily close in November amid safety and staffing concerns. The charter school is required to submit a safety plan for the second semester by Jan. 9.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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