“Thoughts and Prayers,” But No Consequences: NCSD Can’t Discipline Students For Outside School Behavior
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and, now, the Natrona County School District has gone on record regarding alleged charges of sexual assault by a student athlete, saying that they "cannot provide disciplinary consequences to a student for behaviors that occur solely outside of school operations."
At a March meeting of the Natrona County School Board, several parents came up to speak about the lack of consequences for a Natrona County student athlete who was accused of sexual assault and battery by multiple female students.
According to the father of a victim, an NCSD student had 10 charges levied against him from 8 other girls, though only one alleged charge stuck.
The father of the victim spoke out on social media, calling out the accused, as well as the school district for a perceived lack of justice (The screenshot features NSFW language, reader discretion is advised).
Following the victim's father's statement on social media, a petition was created on change.org in order to bring awareness to the alleged assaults.
"Stop these sex offenders in our small town (sic) Casper Wyoming and getting away with stuff like this because the family makes good money and has good paying jobs," the description of the petition read. "We need him to pay the consequences! Do what's right to stop sex offenders."
The petition, created in March, has a goal of 5,000 signatures. It currently has 4,557.
The father of the victim was one of those signatures and, in the comment section, stated that he was signing the petition because he believed his family has been "robbed" of justice.
At the March 14 Board Meeting for the Natrona County School District, several parents spoke out about the allegations, including one of the victim's father's and grandmother.
"As a father, I look at you and see a system that has failed," the father said. "It failed my daughter for school activities. She can't go do this stuff, why? Because she's in fear. The system that you guys wrote has failed. And, as a father, I'm sure many of you know this, you would do anything for your child. I want to see change in here. I want to know that our system might be broken, but we can fix it. I want to know why my daughter has to suffer when this star athlete, this student when he walks around being paraded around, there are no repercussions. What kind of system is this. What have we done to protect our child?"
On April 11, the Board addressed the allegations, as well as the school district's response to those allegations.
"Last meeting we listened to public comment regarding a young female student who's victimized," Board Trustee Dave Applegate stated. "I want to again express concern for this young woman and her family, and express the hope that she makes full use of district resources, such as counseling services to recover from the incident. She is in our thoughts and prayers."
Applegate said that legal requirements regarding student privacy do not allow them to discuss student disciplinary details publicly.
"I think if we reflect on this on this requirement, we will all agree it serves the interest of students and their families," Applegate said. "That said, this board is responsible for policy in this district, and to that end, I have a few comments."
Before we get to those comments, however...
K2 Radio News reached out to a representative of the Natrona County School District, regarding this matter.
"The legal inability to comment on individual student disciplinary consequences or code of conduct violations does not indicate an absence of NCSD regulations and/or policies being followed for situations directly related to school operations," the representative stated.
When asked why the accused student was faced with no consequences for the alleged assault of a female peer, even after, allegedly, the accused was convicted of the crime (according to the victim's father), the representative stated that, per district policy, because the crimes did not occur in a school setting, they were unable to provide consequences.
"NCSD’s Student Conduct and Discipline regulation and applicable school disciplinary consequences apply to students while in school, on school grounds, utilizing school transportation, or during school district activities or events," the representative stated. "NCSD investigates and applies appropriate school disciplinary consequences for student actions or behavior violations that occur within the scope of school operations."
The representative added that "NCSD cannot provide disciplinary consequences to a student for behaviors that occur solely outside of school operations. NCSD is not the acting authority for investigating criminal matters occurring outside school operations and/or off-school campuses."
The representative noted that there are differences between the NCSD Student Conduct and Discipline regulations, and the NCSD Athletics and Activities Code of Conduct. The two are separate codes, with their own disciplinary measures and standards.
When asked why the student was able to continue participating in sports, the representative stated that "Participation in athletics or activities is an opportunity provided to students. Students and parents/guardians sign the NCSD Athletic & Activities Code of Conduct which outlines expectations of behavior and consequences for code violations for student-athletes, specific to the scope of their sport/activity."
According to the NCSD Athletics and Activities Code of Conduct, students who violate the code of conduct are required to "disclose the code violation to the appropriate officials (i.e., Coach, Principal, Athletic Director, etc.). Disciplinary consequences for code violations occur at the time the infraction is substantiated. The NCSD Athletics and Activities Code of Conduct identifies consequences for code violations."
In theory, student athletes are on an "honor system" regarding whether or not they disclose their code violation to authorities.
“To participate [in extra-curricular activities], students agree to a code of conduct,” Applegate stated. “It is an honor code and in many cases it relies on self-reporting of code violations. In reviewing the code of conduct, I have concluded it needs to be revised to better clarify its intent and to better ensure its consistent application.”
Applegate said there were issues within the code of conduct that should be reviewed and revised.
"Self reporting requirements need to be made more explicit, in terms of information provided, timing, and affected parties," Applegate suggested. "Ramifications of not reporting need to be outlined in the code. The code refers to intervention plans, but the expectations associated with these plans are not outlined in the code. The code enforcement process needs to be made more explicit, in terms of responsibilities of the coach and Athletic Director. The code needs to clearly state when school principal and even district legal review is needed. The code needs to explicitly explain to athletes and parents that code violations that occur late in the season have more sever ramifications. This is implicit to the code as written, but it needs to be explicit and explained to all athletes and their parents."
Applegate also suggested that the code of conduct needs to define the ramifications of misdemeanor vs felony convictions.
"Some violations should clearly result in dismissal from the team, and the code currently is not explicit in this regard."
Applegate stated that if fellow board members agreed with his suggestions, hopefully the NCSD Superintendent would apply his suggestions.
"Finally, I want to note that while policies and rules and laws are intended to protect society and ensure accountability when not followed, they always fall short,” Applegate said. “They are in the end blunt instruments, and a sense of fairness as reflected by all parties is seldom achieved, but that is never an excuse for not trying to improve them.”
Fairness is an objective term. As is justice. That being said, the accused student was originally going to be attending Chadron State College after graduating high school. On March 31, Chadron's college newspaper 'The Eagle,' reported that CSC President Randy Rhine confirmed that the student would no longer be attending the school.
It was not stated whether this was a decision from the school, or from the student himself.
"Rhine said that the recruit was an outlier, and cases like this aren’t seen very often," The Eagle reported. "He also stressed that this is not a unique thing to the athletics department because with the college’s admissions and student conduct policies and procedures there are things that can and cannot be asked."
“So, you know if we need to review those policies, then certainly we will,” Rhine said. “We will do that. But there are reasons why those policies are built the way they are and that not going to keep somebody from not being honest with us. But don’t think that this is just an athletic problem, because it’s not.”
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) states that "Every 68 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. And every 9 minutes, the victim is a child. Meanwhile, only 25 out of every 1,000 perpetrators will end up in prison."
So, no. It's not just an athletic problem.
But at least the victims have our "thoughts and prayers."