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24th Sep 2012

By Ciara O’Rourke

The parents of a girl who police say was sexually assaulted by a teacher are suing the Lockhart school district, claiming administrators put their daughter at risk by failing to report allegations of improper relationships to the proper authorities.

Lockhart High School teacher and coach Thomas Christopher Knox, 29, was arrested in November by Lockhart police and was indicted in May on charges of online solicitation of a minor and having an improper student-educator relationship.

In July, Knox was arrested in Hays County and charged with sexual assault of a child and having an improper student-educator relationship. According to an arrest affidavit, the student said she had gone to Knox’s San Marcos apartment about five times, the first time around Aug. 27, 2011.

She told investigators she had sex with Knox on that date, according to the affidavit.

Attorneys for the plaintiff said she was 16 at the time.

The suit, which names Knox, Assistant Superintendent Larry Ramirez and Lockhart High School Principal Monica Guillory as defendants, claims the district bucked its own policy — and state law — by not reporting suspected child abuse to the proper authorities within 48 hours.

Lockhart school district officials did not return calls for comment Thursday.

The lawsuit says the student was endangered because reports of possible improper relationships between Knox and current and former students were not handled appropriately when they came to administrators’ attention.

Three allegations about Knox surfaced in school documents obtained through an open records request by attorneys, said Derek Howard, who is representing the girl’s parents.

Howard declined to share the documents, and the school district did not immediately fulfill a request for them.

According to the suit, those documents show that Heather Stull, principal of the high school’s freshman campus, told Guillory on Aug. 9, 2011, that she had been told Knox was having improper relationships with at least two former students, one of whom was 17.

The suit cites documents saying that Guillory and Ramirez met with Knox 10 days later and that he admitted to “keeping in touch with several females who were former students.”

Documents cited by the plaintiff say that Ramirez told Knox to get a new cellphone number and not give the new number out to students.

“They have reasonable suspicions and they do nothing to investigate it,” Howard said.

The suit also says that school records show Ramirez received a tip Sept. 19, 2011, claiming that Knox had kissed a female student on the cheek.

According to the suit, the tip was minimally investigated and never reported to authorities.

The next complaint against Knox was Oct. 28, the suit says, and involved the girl whose parents filed the suit.

Knox was placed on a three-day paid administrative leave Oct. 31, the suit says.

Lockhart police officials said they began to investigate the allegations Nov. 1 and arrested Knox four days later.

The girl’s parents are seeking an unspecified sum in damages.

“When parents send their children off to school, they expect their children to be safe,” Howard said. “It is our hope that this lawsuit will operate to improve the safety of all school children.”

http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/parents-sue-lockhart-school-district-after-teacher/nSLYQ/

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