A federal judge ruled May 31 a lawsuit filed last year against Jefferson City Public Schools and Jefferson City High School Principal Robert James has been dismissed.
The family of a student who was raped by a man who posed as a guardian over the phone to remove the student from school filed the suit in March 2018 in Cole County Circuit Court, and the case was moved later that month to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
A Jefferson City man, Jerome Buschman, pleaded guilty in August 2017 to second-degree statutory rape and second-degree statutory sodomy, and he is incarcerated — sentenced to five years in prison.
The counts of the lawsuit essentially argued alleged negligence to prevent or effectively respond to Buschman's acts also constituted sexual harassment — which made the lawsuit a federal civil rights case that belonged in U.S. District Court.
However, U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes ruled in his order for dismissal that there was no evidence to support the sexual harassment argument; "there is no dispute that Jerome Buschman was not associated with the district, and that none of the improper sexual contact at issue occurred on school property," and the district's policies did not discriminate between male and female students.
Additionally, Wimes ruled "the record shows that the JCHS staff reasonably believed they were releasing (the victim) from school at the request and authorization of (a parent)," and there is no evidence in the record that supports "the conclusion that JCHS staff did not follow procedure on the four instances in which Jerome Buschman called the school."
The victim was a JCHS sophomore at the time of the crimes in fall 2016.
The victim told police in January 2017 that Buschman had contacted the school office and posed as a parent to take the student from school to his home, where the sexual activities took place. This happened multiple times over the course of three months, between Sept. 9 and Nov. 11, 2016.
According to the "uncontroverted facts" in the lawsuit dismissal, on Sept. 9, Sept. 23 and Oct. 14, 2016, Buschman called JCHS to excuse the victim from school. The victim knew each time that Buschman was the person calling, and each time did not inform anyone at the school it was not a parent who was calling. Each time, the victim left JCHS and went to Buschman's house.
On Nov. 11, 2016, Buschman called JCHS and got the victim excused for the entire school day. The victim knew Buschman would be calling school for that purpose, "because the two had communicated the plan by text."
A parent of the victim testified they had no information to suggest JCHS was aware it was Buschman calling to excuse the victim on the four occasions.
Buschman testified he never went on school property each time he went to JCHS to pick up the victim.
Principal James testified district policy that "'any person requesting release of a student must present proper identification prior to the release of the student' pertains to in-person pickup only, and not to dismissals over the phone. Since many students at JCHS can drive, many parents do not come to the JCHS building."
District policies have also stated "'staff may refuse to release a student and will notify the principal if they have concerns regarding the student's safety or whether a person is authorized to transport the student. Otherwise the district will assume the student knows with whom he or she may leave.'"
"When a person would call JCHS to excuse a student from class, the phone number of the incoming call would not be displayed," and JCHS would identify a caller as authorized to release a student when they provided enough information "that would allow a prudent staff member to determine that the caller was indeed who he or she purported to be" — Buschman had that kind of information.
JCPS Director of Communications Ryan Burns said Tuesday that "Staff at the high school have intensified their focus on the identification process by strengthening the steps required to confirm parent/guardian identity based on information included in student records."
"We are pleased with the court ruling in favor of the district and Jefferson City High School principal," Burns said Friday about the most recent dismissal.
The dismissal of the lawsuit means there are no longer any active lawsuits against JCPS in federal court. The dismissal leaves five other active lawsuits against the school district — all of which are in Cole County Circuit Court and four of which are employment discrimination suits.
The district reported in February it has spent more than $1.1 million on lawsuits and settlements since former teacher Karen Ray's lawsuit was filed in 2014 — but the full costs including what's been covered by insurance have totaled almost $2.1 million.
The district had not spent any money on the federal case that was dismissed May 31 — insurance had covered it — according to JCPS in February.