Another young girl joined a federal lawsuit against the Perry school district Tuesday. There are allegations that the district failed to report sexual abuse by teaching assistant Arnold Cowen. The suit claims silence from administrators turned more children into victims.
This lawsuit alleges a pattern of sweeping these accusations under the rug, and some girls say the administrators flat-out called them liars instead of properly investigating their stories.
This new Jane Doe is the 16th girl to sue the Perry school district, but Arnold Cowen is accused of molesting at least 22 students during his time at Perry Upper Elementary School.
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Four of the girls came forward together in December 2016, reporting to principal Kenda Miller and math teacher Jeffrey Sullins that Cowen was feeling their breasts and whispering suggestive statements to them while pretending to help them with classwork. After they were ignored, more girls later came forward in January with similar stories of abuse.
Victim attorney Cameron Spradling says those girls are, “additional victims that would have never had been abused if the administration had stepped up at the very beginning.”
The lawsuit says other victims tried to report their abuse to teachers Tammy Readus and Paula Gottschalk, but both women sent the girls to Miller’s office, where the investigation ended.
Two victims eventually told their parents, who immediately went to the Perry Police Department. Once confronted by police, Cowen immediately confessed his crimes, and Spradling says other girls could have been protected if those with the courage to speak up had just been believed from the beginning.
He says, “Perpetrators and those that hide the perpetrators are protected through silence.”
Once the allegations were made public, more victims felt empowered to come forward, including the 16th girl who joined the federal lawsuit. They hope to seek justice by making sure schools across the state train their staff to properly report allegations of abuse, whether they believe them or not.
“The secrets of Perry are being revealed and that’s for the good of the community,” Spradling says. “That’s going to help this community that they don’t bury their heads in this problem.”
The criminal trials for Miller, Sullins, and Cowen are all set to begin in Noble County in March.