Lawsuit alleges Rainier school officials tried to stifle child abuse report
A $1.86 million lawsuit filed against the Rainier School District earlier this month alleges top officials at the district worked to suppress and prevent the reporting of child abuse.
An amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Nov. 21 by Michelle Eastham and Terrianne MacEllven, who both worked as instructional assistants for the district in 2015, alleges Rainier School District Superintendent Michael Carter and his wife, Laurie Kash, who worked as the district's director of special education and director of student services, intimidated them and interfered with their efforts to report sexual and physical abuse reported by a 6-year-old student.
By law, teachers and other school district employees are required to immediately report any signs or information of child neglect or abuse.
McEllven and Eastham say that in October 2015, a 6-year-old girl told the instructional assistants that a high school boy had touched her in her genital region inappropriat-
ely and punched her at her home.
The girl reportedly told the teaching aides that a teen touched her underneath her underwear and "would cover her mouth with his hand while pinching her nose, preventing her from breathing," the complaint states. "The student was crying and begging not to be sent back to her home."
The girl showed signs of physical abuse, Eastham and MacEllven claimed, so they informed the student's teacher, who then notified Kash.
MacEllven and Eastham say Kash forbade them from making any report to the Department of Human Services or other agencies, saying the 6-year-old girl was a "fantastical liar," and was making it up.
Despite Kash's orders, the plaintiffs notified the Columbia County Child Abuse Assessment Center and the Columbia County Sheriff's Office, as well as the Rainier Police Department, according to the complaint.
A few days later, Kash called Eastham and MacEllven, as well as all other instructional assistants at the district, into her office, according to the complaint, saying she had a personal relationship with the high school boy alleged to have abused the young girl, and was friends with the boy's caretaker.
"Defendant Kash also repeated her allegations that the disclosing 6-year-old student was a 'liar' and was also 'nuts' and a 'flirt who likes to flirt with men' and 'bat her eyelashes at them,'" the lawsuit states.
Shortly afterward, district staff members were notified of a reporting system that instructed them to wait 24 hours before making any reports, and required an online form to be filled out through the district's website.
Carter was complicit in the delayed reporting system, and "openly threatened to punitively reassign plaintiffs to different positions," according to the lawsuit.
Eastham and MacEllven both filed complaints against Carter and Kash to the Rainier School Board, but according to their lawsuit, Carter forbade them from making complaints or speaking to school board members.
Eastham and MacEllven also filed complaints with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, which issued a notice of right to sue.
Kari Hollander, a school board member, said the events in question happened prior to her school board term, which started this year. Hollander declined to comment on the litigation but indicated "at this time, everything is still pending," when asked whether the board would consider Carter's employment in light of the allegations. Other school board members did not respond to requests for comment.
Prior to the lawsuit being filed, Kash took a position in Texas as director of special education, the Austin-American Statesman reported. Kash was recently fired from her position. She claims she was fired in retaliation for her questioning a no-bid contract the Texas Education Agency executed. TEA officials say they terminated Kash after learning of the lawsuit filed in Oregon.