This story has been updated.
Just beyond Nashville’s city limits, nestled in one of the nation’s wealthiest towns, is a prestigious private Christian prep school called Brentwood Academy that boasts of scholastic success as well as athletic prowess, with 71 state athletic championships. Some of the students, whose families pay $25,000 a year in tuition, are the children of Music City royalty. All go to college. A dozen have gone to the NFL.
The school’s nondenominational Christian mission is carried out through daily scripture readings and weekly chapel services that take students “deeper in God’s Word.”
But now, its reputation is being tarnished by graphic, detailed allegations in a lawsuit that an eighth-grade boy raped a sixth-grade boy repeatedly on school property in 2015. The alleged victim’s mother brought the $30 million lawsuit in early August. She claims that the school, with help from community allies, orchestrated a coverup.
“This is where musicians and politicians and executives send their children,” said Roland Mumford, the lawyer representing the mother and her son. “The one constant thing over the decades has been: protect the athletes, protect the athletes, protect the athletes,” he told The Washington Post
The school denies wrongdoing. Police and the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services are investigating.
The lawsuit, filed in Williamson County Circuit Court, claims that during the 2014-15 academic year, the sixth-grade boy was forcibly penetrated in the mouth or anus on five separate occasions by one male eighth-grade student. Three other eighth-graders allegedly held down the child or blocked the door during the assaults.
Officials were aware of what happened, the lawsuit claims, but did little until the child’s parents found out.
The school has acknowledged in statements this past week that it was aware of “student misbehavior” in January 2015 and separated younger and older students in the locker room, but said it was never “aware of any accusations of rape.”
The attackers, named in the lawsuit by initials because they are minors, were 14 and 15 years old at the time of the assaults and known bullies in the halls of Brentwood Academy, the complaint claims.
The school headmaster, middle school athletic director, middle school principal and two basketball coaches were aware of their aggressive behavior through parent and student complaints but failed to prevent the rapes, the lawsuit alleges.
The first assault took place at a postgame party during football season in the fall of 2014, according to the lawsuit, and the others occurred inside Brentwood’s middle school locker room on four consecutive Friday afternoons in January and February 2015.
The boy’s mother, named Jane Doe in the lawsuit, learned of the assaults from the mother of another sixth-grade student in April 2015. The alleged victim did not return to Brentwood Academy the following school year.
The school told The Post in a statement that the accused boys were punished for something, but wouldn’t say how or for what. Attorneys representing the alleged victim said two of the eighth-graders were expelled, and two were disciplined.
The lawsuit also accuses Daystar Counseling Ministries, a Christian-based business founded by a former employee of Brentwood Academy with deep ties to the school, of failing to report the alleged sexual assault to the proper authorities, which is required by Tennessee law. A Daystar counselor, who is identified in the lawsuit but not listed as a defendant, is accused of pressuring the mother not to report the alleged abuse, saying: “this isn’t how Christian institutions handle these things.”
Daystar denied that version of events in a statement on its website.
“The allegations that Daystar did not properly comply with state law requirements for reporting abuse are false,” the organization said in the statement. “When we became aware of inappropriate activity in 2015, we responded immediately and thoroughly, cooperated fully with the authorities, and took appropriate action based on what we knew.”
The mother eventually notified the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, which then alerted the Brentwood Police Department. In April 2015, police opened a criminal investigation, but no charges have been filed in the two years since, Assistant Police Chief Tommy Walsh confirmed. The case remains open.
Walsh would not say what has prolonged any resolution, writing in an email that there was an unspecified “number of factors” and that he was “unable to comment” on them.
“That is our big question,” lawyer Mumford said. “Why haven’t the police arrested these juveniles?”
Walsh said the department plans to offer a status update on the investigation in the next few days. But he confirmed in a email to the Tennessean that the investigation did not include staffers at Brentwood Academy or Daystar Counseling.
The state’s Department of Children’s Services also opened an investigation in April 2015, the agency’s communications director, Rob Johnson, told The Post. Johnson could not disclose how or if the case was resolved, but on Thursday said that the department had opened a another investigation “based on new information DCS has received regarding allegations arising from the Brentwood Academy case.”
A police report obtained by The Post from August 2015 mirrors many of the assault accusations listed in the lawsuit. It draws from an interview with the alleged victim, who is now 14 years old. Descriptions of the alleged assaults are detailed and graphic. The eighth-grade boy accused of assaulting the sixth-grader would taunt him by calling his name in the locker room, according to the documents, and others in the locker room would chant a nickname the older student had given his own genitals.
Since the allegations first went public last week, Brentwood Academy has been doing damage control.
In a letter to parents and in a separate statement to The Post, the school denied, emphatically, the allegations made against it and its employees. Headmaster Curtis Masters called claims in the lawsuit “completely untrue” and “not factual.”
Masters is a defendant in the lawsuit, which accuses him of attempting to downplay reports of bullying, which he considered “boys being boys.” He told the 12-year-old boy, according to the complaint, to “turn the other cheek.” Masters also told the child that “everything in God’s kingdom happens for a reason,” the lawsuit alleges.
In the letter to parents, Masters said that “certain statements” attributed to him in the complaint “are simply not true,” but did not specify which statements.
“We take any allegations involving our students’ safety very seriously,” Masters said in the letter to parents, emphasizing that the lawsuit only offered one side of the story. Brentwood cannot give a detailed repudiation due to privacy laws, he said, but soon will address each allegation in a legal response to the lawsuit.
“Brentwood Academy intends to vigorously defend itself and pursue all legal options,” school communications director Susan Shafer told The Post.
The school has extensive experience battling in court. In a decade-long case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court — twice — Brentwood spent millions of dollars fighting the state of Tennessee over the school’s athletic recruiting practices.
The lengths with which the school is willing to go to win, Mumford said, is why students, parents and the community rarely dare to take it on.
“If you try to push something like this, you sever a whole lot of life strings,” Bureon Ledbetter, a retired attorney and neighbor of the alleged victim who will soon be co-counsel on the case, told The Post. “You have to change friends, schools, churches.”
Ledbetter said that he first served as an unofficial adviser to the mother of the alleged victim, offering her legal guidance as she searched for an attorney. But as he went through his list of Nashville’s top litigators, nearly a dozen refused to take up the case for fear of personal or professional retribution, Ledbetter claimed.
That’s when he found Mumford, who is outside the Brentwood community and has experience taking school districts to court.
Since he filed the lawsuit two weeks ago, Mumford said he has received phone calls and emails from people who attended Brentwood as far back as the 1980s complaining of a lack of transparency at the academy. Those sentiments have been echoed across social media from people claiming to be alumni.
“We’re finding out there are a lot of people who are having a little bit of courage to come forward,” Ledbetter said.
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