It was one of the worst nightmares any girl in school can go through- being molested by a trusted figure in school and not being believed by school officials when one had the guts to speak about being sexually assaulted.
It also did not matter that not only one girl experienced being abused, but 15 of them at Perry Upper Elementary School in Perry, Oklahoma. The preteens were allegedly molested by a teacher’s aide Arnold Cowen. As shockingly as this may sound, the aide is 86 years old.
The girls all say they have been molested by Cowen, but couldn’t do anything about it because the school did nothing about it. The girls said many times they would just cry together in the bathroom during breaks and would put on makeup after their crying sessions to hide evidence of their fresh tears before going back to their classes.
A federal lawsuit filed Friday against Perry Public Schools and the Board of Education said some school officials knew all along that Cowen was potentially abusing young girls throughout the 2016-2017 school year but did nothing about it.
Cowen was a teacher’s assistant in multiple classes, including the math class of Jeffrey Sullins. Sullins was later arrested for allegedly covering up the abuses of his teaching assistant. Sullins was a teacher to multiple girls who allege that Cowen groped their private parts and made sexual comments to them.
The lawsuit says the girls tried to report Cowen’s abuses but horrifically nothing was done. The lawsuit further asserts that one student even reported the alleged abuse to a teacher named Tammy Readus. Readus, however, did not even alert the police but just sent the confessing student to the principal- Kendra Miller.
Making matters worse was the principal’s decision not to report the matter to the police either. The principal even advised one girl to simply “fist bump” Cowen instead of hugging him. Even when two other students complained to Miller, too, about Cowen’s assaults, the principal just gave the same absurd suggestion of just giving Cowen a “fist bump.”
Miller even undermined, if not invalidated the girls’ harrowing experiences by telling one student that Cowen touching her body was likely “just an accident.”
The principal also warned another student that she could be responsible for “getting people in trouble” if she told someone else about the abuse.
The lawsuit says the abuses happened before the 2016 Christmas break. The month after that, Sullins even allegedly tried to intimidate students from telling more people about Cowen’s abuses. The lawsuit described how in one incident, Sullins even grabbed a note one student was passing to another in class. The note read: “Mr. Cowen grab (sic) my boob then I made this face (drawing of ‘awkward’ emoticon), and he said it was nice there.”’
Instead of offering the student support and counseling, Sullins even confronted the girl outside class. Sullins told the girl in the hallway that he “believed none of it.” The girl was even made to return to class to work with Cowen on a math assignment.
Only by late January this year that police started to investigate reports of abuse in school. The lawsuit says officers interviewed Miller, but the principal even defended Cowen and had nothing but nice words for the teacher aide. Miller said Cowen was someone who had “great moral character and was a very nice guy.”’
Miller even had the gall to describe the allegations of the students as “fabrications.” The lawsuit also alleges that even then-Superintendent Scott Chenoweth wrote about the accusations in a text message but also failed to take any corrective action.
The police later uncovered the full shocking and condemnable extent and depth of the abuses. Cowen was later arrested and charged with 21 counts of child molestation and another for child pornography.
In March, Sullins and Miller were also arrested and they later resigned from their jobs. Chenoweth also resigned after that.
The families of the abused girls are now hoping their lawsuit would at least ensure that something like this will never happen again, and no girl would be abused again.
The lawyer for the 15 girls, Cameron Spradling told the local media that: “The Perry Board of Education has failed its community and its taxpayers. This federal lawsuit will reveal the secrets of Perry, Oklahoma. It is time that sexual assault victim be taken seriously, especially our children.”
It was’t clear why the school officials were very protective of Cowen, if they had a personal relationship with him, or if they simply were irresponsible and insensitive in dismissing the students’ feelings and traumatic experiences. No matter their motivations for protecting the elderly Cowen, they will certainly answer for it legally now.