Ray Carter | August 16, 2022

Complaint seeks Shawnee accreditation downgrade over abuse

Ray Carter

A complaint filed with the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) requests that the agency investigate and downgrade the accreditation status of the Shawnee school district, alleging that school officials failed to protect children from former coach Ronald Gene Arthur, who has been accused of grooming and sexually mistreating students.

The complaint comes after a former student recently sued the district over the alleged failure of school personnel to investigate and prevent abuse of the student.

“The Shawnee School Board’s and Administration’s long-term and illegal practices in regard to its protection of a predatory teacher over protection of students, which included willful violation of state mandatory reporting law, has hurt the reputation of Shawnee Public Schools, injured the trust of the community, and put the Shawnee School District at risk of damages and an expensive civil lawsuit,” Maria Mercedes Seidler, chief counsel for Legal Overwatch for Parents’ School Rights, wrote in the OSDE complaint. “Their actions and the school climate they created constitute accreditation violations for which the Shawnee Public School District should be downgraded and the public school employees involved at risk for termination of their certificates.”

Seidler described her group as one that seeks “to defend parents’ rights, as codified in the Oklahoma Parents’ Bill of Rights, against the illicit role that some public schools are trying to assume in their children’s lives.”

“The Shawnee Public School’s administration on more than one occasion failed in its duty to report to legal authorities the predatory conduct by a school employee that ultimately resulted in a fractured community divided by years-long stand-off between parents, who feared for their children, and the School Board and Administration who chose to protect the teacher and winning coach,” the complaint states.

Arthur was arrested in August 2021 for alleged crimes against a student. One parent has publicly stated that she reported abuse long before that date.

In 2007, Delinda Curtis said she notified the then-Shawnee Public Schools superintendent, athletic director, and at least one school board member that her son had reported being sexually groomed and mistreated by Arthur. Among other things, Arthur had fondled the boy’s testicles, encouraged him to visit porn sites and made sexual comments.

In 2018, another mother contacted Curtis and informed her that Arthur was still abusing students. On April 4, 2018, Curtis emailed then-Shawnee Superintendent April Grace, warning, “I do not know if there is anything on this coach’s file from over ten years ago, but my gut and my son’s gut says that this guy has not experienced a miracle cure from what we and professionals outside of the school would consider as ‘grooming kids’ such as a pedophile would do.”

Grace, who was not Shawnee superintendent when the 2007 incident was reported, responded on April 16, 2018, writing, “As to any courses of action previously taken I do not know at this time. There are certain legal parameters in which we have to operate as I am sure you are aware. Again, I do appreciate you sharing your experience and concerns with me and we take these things very seriously and I do appreciate you taking the time to notify us and share the information.”

However, Arthur remained on staff at Shawnee schools until his August 2021 arrest.

At an April press conference, Amber Soule, a deputy sheriff and investigator with the Pottawatomie County Sheriff’s Office, said school personnel records showed Shawnee school officials were aware of repeated infractions and that Arthur routinely ignored restrictions imposed by school officials, yet nothing significant was done. The sheriff’s office reported that eight admonishments and suspensions were included in Arthur’s school disciplinary records.

Arthur was employed by the district from 2006 to 2021.

“It appears that none of the incidents resulting in these admonishments and suspensions were reported to Department of Human Services (DHS) as required by law,” Seidler stated in her OSDE complaint.

Seidler’s complaint says Shawnee officials’ alleged lack of follow-through represent violations that should lead to Shawnee schools having its accreditation downgraded to “accredited with warning.”

Arthur has been charged with counts that include soliciting sexual contact with a minor by use of technology, forcible sodomy, and first-degree rape. Arthur has denied wrongdoing.

Seidler’s OSDE complaint comes after a student sued both the Shawnee school district and Arthur on June 6.

The lawsuit, which identified the student only as “John Doe,” notes that school officials first received reports of Arthur abusing a student in 2007, and states that Shawnee school officials “failed to take sufficient remedial action to correct, eliminate and/or prevent the recurrence of the offensive and unconstitutional acts described above once its employees perceived, knew or had reason to believe that Defendant Arthur posed a risk of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and sexual assault.”

The lawsuit also states that Shawnee school officials “had a duty to report allegations of Arthur’s sexual misconduct to the Oklahoma Department of Human Services” but “failed to report to the DHS, even though Defendant had information regarding Arthur’s misconduct that required reporting.”

“The failure to report by the District was the direct and proximate cause of the abuse of Plaintiff, thereby causing Plaintiff mental anguish and physical injury,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit separately says that Arthur “abused” the plaintiff student “after the District had actual notice of Arthur’s previous conduct.”

The lawsuit says that Shawnee school officials’ actions (or inaction) violated the student’s due-process and equal-protection rights under the U.S. Constitution.

The John Doe lawsuit also says the Shawnee school district has “an unconstitutional custom or policy” of failing “to investigate and report criminal misconduct,” discounting “the credibility of student allegations,” and failing “to adequately train and supervise employees with regard to the investigation and reporting of sexual misconduct of students.”

“An environment where an adolescent is feloniously touched, molested, and/or receives lewd or lascivious communications from an adult is a dangerous environment,” the lawsuit states.

That lawsuit was subsequently shifted to federal court, and then voluntarily dismissed by the plaintiff.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs sent a request for comment to both Shawnee Public Schools and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. As of publication, neither had provided a statement.

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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