Hartsoe, now 18, said that she complained to the school’s administrators but nothing was done. She dropped out, started taking Xanax to sleep and had “PTSD blackouts,” she said.
“I'm impressed I made it out of there alive,” Hartsoe said. “They could have helped me and chose not to help me. They destroyed me.”
Hartsoe is one of five female former students who have sued Concordia in federal court in the past year, alleging administrators at the school have ignored a culture of sexual misconduct in recent years. The lawsuits come more than three years into the #MeToo movement and months after the U.S. Education Department found reports of sexual assaults at elementary, middle and high schools increased sharply between 2015 and 2018.
Analyzing survey data from public and charter schools and juvenile justice facilities, federal officials in October said reports of sexual violence nationwide increased from about 9,600 in the 2015-2016 academic year to almost 15,000 in the 2017-2018 academic year — an increase of more than 50 percent.
The Washington Post generally does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent, but three of the alleged victims at Concordia decided to share their story.
Concordia spokeswoman Jane Ponton said in an email that the school has a zero-tolerance policy for violations of its code of conduct and sexual harassment policy.
“When an alleged violation is brought to our attention, we hold a thorough investigation and take appropriate action based on the results,” she said. “Because of the pending litigation, we are unable to share any additional details at this time.”
Home to about 275 students with annual tuition near $14,000 in its upper school, Concordia says on its website that is a “Christ-centered community of servant leaders,” with a school dance dress-code policy that prohibits tight pants.
One sexual assault involving a Concordia plaintiff resulted in a conviction.
David Kirtz, 19, pleaded guilty in April to sexual assault in Baltimore County after being accused of digitally raping a 13-year-old eighth-grader after a school talent show in 2019.
In an interview with the girl and her mother, her mother said Kirtz offered her daughter, now 15, a ride home from a school talent show, then drove her to a church parking lot and sexually assaulted her. When her family told Concordia administrators about the incident, they declined to investigate, her mother said.
Kirtz later left the school but was not kicked out, the student’s mother said. At a court hearing, the student told Kirtz his actions made her feel ashamed, adding, “I just wish I could take an eraser and remove it all from my memory. . . . David, you took a part of me that night that I can never get back.”
Kirtz’s attorney declined to comment, and efforts to reach Kirtz through phone numbers available in public records were not successful.
According to Hartsoe’s lawsuit, filed in October in U.S. District Court in Maryland, Concordia’s “hyper-sexualized culture” was “fueled in large part by a general consensus that student-athletes — especially male student-athletes, whose athletic programs drew in large alumni donations — were ‘above the law.’ ”
Despite reports of sexual assault and harassment to the school, Concordia administrators “failed to make any report to state or local authorities, failed to conduct any investigation, [and] failed to even inform [Hartsoe’s] parents,” her suit said.
In April court filings, the school moved to dismiss many of Hartsoe’s claims, saying its employees were not responsible for the alleged assaults and could not have stopped them.
“There is no allegation or even suggestion that a particular employee, if properly trained or supervised, would (or could) have prevented any of the specific harassment or assault that Plaintiff contends caused her injury,” the filing said. In responding to Hartsoe’s suit, Concordia said it investigated reports of a FaceTime video shared with students but “never confirmed the existence of an alleged video.”
Christina Graziano, an attorney who represents the former Concordia students, said Hartsoe’s complaint led other young women who alleged similar mistreatment at the school to come forward with their accounts.
“The phone was ringing off the hook,” she said. “If the school had acted on the information and reports it was given . . . their harassments and later assaults could have been prevented.”
Arianna Gomez, who enrolled in ninth grade in 2017 when she was 15, said she was harassed daily. In one incident, described in her suit against the school in November, she said she was lifted in the air at school by “a group of male student-athletes . . . grabbing at [her] backside and thighs and spanking her aggressively.”
She said she reported the incident but nothing was done, then the harassment intensified the next year.
“Many male student-athletes, almost exclusively from the football team, would tell Ms. Gomez that they wanted to have sex with her and impregnate her,” according to her lawsuit.
When Gomez joined other students to complain to school administrators about the harassment, the suit said, they took no action. Gomez, now 19and a senior at another school in Baltimore, said she started seeing a therapist.
“It was embarrassing. And I just can't handle that constant, everyday catcalling and harassment,” she said. “It was disgusting.”
Gomez’s lawsuit said the Lutheran Church’s Southeastern District — part of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, an evangelical sect with almost 2 million members — deployed a “crisis management team” to Concordia to respond to sexual misconduct allegations during the 2018-2019 academic year.
The team included Sally Hiller, the district’s executive director, who met with faculty members “not in an effort to understand and respond to their concerns, but instead to institute intimidating gag orders and quash the faculty’s push for the administration to implement more stringent policies concerning sexual assault and harassment,” according to the suit.
Hiller and the Southeastern District declined to comment through an attorney, citing the ongoing litigation. The school also did not respond to an inquiry about the incident.
In another lawsuit, a student alleged she received “threats of physical and sexual violence” in 2016 and 2017 on social media from a seventh-grader after she enrolled for sixth grade at age 11. The alleged online bullying escalated as the student was threatened in school and attacked in eighth grade before they dropped out in 2019, the lawsuit said.
The student declined to speak with The Post.
The school’s headmaster “withheld and mischaracterized his knowledge that over two dozen female students at [Concordia] had been sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or cyberbullied from 2016-2021, often more than once,” her lawsuit said.
Jennifer Pullen, who sued Concordia in November, alleged in a lawsuit that she was assaulted by three students in class who “put their hand up [her] skirt” on two occasions in 2019 while she was a junior, the suit said. When she and her mother, who was then a teacher at Concordia, complained to administrators, she was told “she could jeopardize [her assailants’] college athletics scholarships,” the suit said.
Pullen finished high school elsewhere — at a place where she “wasn’t scared to walk in the hallways,” she said.
“I really just wanted to hold the school accountable for what they did to me and countless other girls that had to go through what I had to go through,” she said. “Maybe one day other girls that go there will feel safe.”