A former Kell High School student who was sexually assaulted by a former teacher has filed suit against three administrators, alleging they violated Cobb County School District policies that would have protected her.
Spencer Herron, a former video production instructor who was named Kell High’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, pleaded guilty in January to repeatedly assaulting the student. Herron was later sentenced to five years in prison and 15 on probation.
Investigators said Herron’s relationship with the teen spanned multiple school years starting when she was 16. Cobb County court records indicate the sex acts took place on the Kell campus against the student’s wishes.
The suit, filed by Atlanta attorney Mike Rafi, states Herron created an “unapproved and otherwise unsupervised school club he called ‘Drone Club’” in school year 2015-16, which he used as a guise to arrange to be alone with the teen.
The club operated throughout the 2015-16 and 2016-17 school years, and then-administrators allowed Herron to take students on field trips off school property, where the teen was also assaulted, Rafi’s filing states.
The suit names defendants Ed Wagner, who was Kell High School’s principal at the time of the assaults and is now an assistant superintendent of Cobb County high schools; Kell Principal Andy Bristow; and Assistant Principal Susan Stoddard.
Rafi’s filing says that in violation of district policies, Wagner, Bristow and Stoddard did not assign a sponsor to coordinate the Drone Club’s activities, require written permission to participate in its activities or review field trip applications for approval. Those failings, he said, directly resulted in repeated assaults on the girl.
“What the teacher did was absolutely disgusting and wrong. But he was allowed to do that by the Cobb County school board and the administrators at Kell,” Rafi told the MDJ. “We are not allowed to sue the Cobb County school board. The law just doesn’t let us do that, so we have to sue administrators. But essentially the lawsuit is against the school board, even though it can’t be in name.”
Rafi said he hopes the school board will adjust its policies or create new ones to make sure what happened to the victim never happens again. He also said that “despite many efforts,” the district refused to participate in “meaningful discussions” to resolve the issues outside of court.
Nan Kiel, a spokeswoman for the school district, said the district would not comment on the pending litigation but has “worked closely with police on the investigation in question.”
“The district actively engages with parents and students on any topic which threatens student safety. We employ a variety of industry-leading initiatives including the ‘SafeSchools Alert’ tip line, ‘We Keep Each Other Safe’ training, and the ‘Concerned Cops’ mentor program. The district’s 65 highly trained police officers are committed to the safety of students and staff at every school, every day,” Kiel’s emailed statement reads.
In a statement written by the victim and provided to the MDJ by Rafi, the former Kell student said she hopes to influence change with the suit and wants to make sure other girls can feel safe at school.
“If I had not come forward, I would’ve asked myself, ‘Who is the next victim?’ and ‘Who will be the one after that?’” Rafi said, reading from the victim’s statement. “I hope this shows other victims and their families that they can stand up for themselves, too. I want girls to know that it is wrong for a trusted adult to abuse that trust to manipulate them into doing things that they are not comfortable with.”
The school district has 30 days to respond to the complaint in state court.