NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
News

Lone Jack School District Settles Cases Accusing Ex-Superintendent Of 'Predatory Sexual Grooming'

082020_lone jack high school.jpg_lone jack school district
Lone Jack School District
Lone Jack High School at 313 S. Bynum Rd. in Lone Jack, Missouri.

In her lawsuit, S.L. alleged that Tarwater emotionally and psychologically abused her during high school and then had sex with her when she turned 21.

Two lawsuits accusing a former Lone Jack School District superintendent of sexually preying on female high school students have been settled for a total of $475,000.

The lawsuits were filed in federal court earlier this year and named the school district and Matthew Tarwater as defendants. Tarwater resigned as superintendent last year.

Tom Buchanan, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the first suit, which was filed by a female high school student identified as S.L., was settled for $250,000. He said the second suit, which was filed by a female high school student identified as K.P. and by her mother, was settled for $225,000. The mother taught at Lone Jack Elementary School.

“Our clients are happy with their financial settlements in the two cases,” Buchanan said. “In addition, they are pleased with policy changes on these and related issues that have been implemented recently by the district.”

Lone Jack School District officials and Tarwater could not be reached for comment.

Lone Jack is about 30 miles southeast of Kansas City. The high school has about 300 students.

In her lawsuit, S.L. alleged that Tarwater emotionally and psychologically abused her during high school and then had sex with her when she turned 21. The suit said the sex wasn’t consensual because she had been subjected to years of “predatory sexual grooming.”

K.P.’s lawsuit alleged that after S.L. graduated from high school, Tarwater used the same predatory tactics, including inappropriate conversations and physical contacts with her, in an attempt to coerce her into a sexual relationship.

A cafeteria worker became so concerned that she complained to Kathy Butler, the high school’s principal at the time, that Tarwater’s behavior around K.P. was inappropriate and made her uncomfortable, according to the lawsuit.

K.P.'s suit also named Butler and Kellie Roth, president of the district’s school board, and accused them of failing to investigate or take remedial action to stop Tarwater’s alleged misconduct. Instead, the lawsuit said, they covered up for him by tipping him off to complaints, further emboldening him.

“The complicity of Roth and Butler is further demonstrated by their conduct in permitting Tarwater to quietly to resign,” the lawsuit alleged.

Tarwater was given a seven-day option to resign in lieu of being fired, according to the lawsuit.

Butler, who is now superintendent, could not be reached for comment. But responding to an editorial in The Kansas City Star in March about the allegations, Butler denied that school officials knew of Tarwater’s alleged misconduct.

Before he was hired in Lone Jack, Tarwater taught history at the middle school and coached eighth-grade girls’ basketball in the Harrisonville School District. He resigned for unknown reasons and paid a $6,000 penalty for leaving in the middle of the year.

After his resignation, the Lone Jack School District hired him to be its high school principal even though he had no administrative experience. He was promoted to superintendent a couple of years later after the previous superintendent retired.

The Lone Jack School District accepted his resignation in December 2019 after the allegations surfaced. The district said it had completed an independent investigation in December 2019, but refused to share the investigator’s report or findings despite promising that an “outcome letter” would be issued after the school board’s regular January 13, 2020, meeting, according to K.P.’s lawsuit.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with essential news and information.
Your donation today keeps local journalism strong.