Lawsuit against JCPS alleges civil rights violations

The lawsuit filed against Jefferson City Public Schools alleges that school district willfully disregarded mounting complaints against band teacher Christopher Knehans.

The complaint filed in federal court by lawyers representing a student Knehans admitted to sexually abusing says JCPS willfully did not act on numerous complaints from faculty and parents about Knehans' conduct for about a year before he was arrested. KRCG 13 obtained a copy of the complaint Thursday. Knehans pleaded guilty in September 2012 to two counts of felony sexual misconduct involving a high school student. Further, the complaint alleges the district's inaction violated the victim's rights under the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause and under Title IX. When contacted about these allegations, Jefferson City Public Schools representatives said they could not comment on an ongoing case and referred all questions to the district's lawyer, Chris Rackers. Rackers could not be reached for comment.

The suit targets the school district as a whole, Knehans, Principal of Secondary Education Paul Dodson, and Assistant Principal of Secondary Education Tammy Ridgeway. According to the complaint filed with the U.S. Court for the Western District of Missouri, band department director Paul Hinman "expressed concerns to District officials and Knehans over Defendant Knehans' relations with [the victim] as early as September of 2010." Parents called Hinman with similar concerns, and he forwarded those calls to Dodson and Ridgeway, who asked him to send any future complaints directly to them. The plaintiffs allege Dodson and Ridgway met with Knehans but took no action and never spoke with the victim or her parents until Knehans was put on administrative leave in September of 2011. Further, the complaint says the district's Title IX coordinator took no action besides an informal meeting with Knehans that month.

"As a direct and proximate result of Defendant District's deliberate indifference and gross failure to act, Plaintiff Doe was discriminated against, sexually abused, and harassed and has suffered psychological damage, emotional distress, and damage to her character and standing in the community," the complaint reads.

In all, the school district, Dodson and Ridgeway each face one count of the following charges:

  • Failure to receive, investigate, and act on complaints

  • Failure to train

  • Negligence

  • Negligent infliction of emotional distress

  • Negligent supervision

Additionally, the school district faces a Title IX violaton due to its alleged failure to enforce its policies on sexual harassment, and Knehans faces charges related to his actions.

The plaintiffs have requested a jury trial for all counts.