District attorney's report on Ooltewah High rape case criticizes school district

Investigation found culture of bullying and hazing 'ingrained as the norm' among school's athletes

The exterior of Ooltewah High School photographed on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016. (Staff photo by Maura Friedman)
photo Hamilton County District Attorney General Neal Pinkston speaks to the press in this file photo.

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After months of investigating Ooltewah High School, following the attack of a freshman by his basketball teammates in December, Hamilton County District Attorney Neal Pinkston released a report today detailing how the school district failed to supervise its employees and protect students.

"There was failure to adequately supervise the students, failure to recognize the significance of the horrific injuries suffered during a rape, failure to notify the victims' parents, failure to provide a swift and appropriate response to the attacks, and failure to assure the public that proactive measure would be taken to address the root causes of these failures," the report states.

Pinkston's investigation, conducted jointly with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office, found that a culture of bullying and hazing "is ingrained as the norm among Ooltewah High School athletes."

A private investigation commissioned by the Hamilton County Board of Education previously stated a culture of hazing existed on the boy's basketball team, prior to the December rape.

A lawsuit filed against the school board also claims this culture of hazing and abuse existed for years and was unaddressed by school officials and coaches.

Pinkston's report states a "lackadaisical mindset is not limited to [Ooltewah High School] leadership," and extends throughout other parts of the school district.

"It is clear [Hamilton County Department of Education] leaders have been unwilling and/or unable to adequately train its employees and volunteers on their duty to ensure the safety of every student," Pinkston's report states. "It is also clear [the Hamilton County Department of Education] leaders have been unwilling and/or unable to adequately communicate with the community it serves."

This lack of communication created the perception that school leaders were uninterested and unwilling to cultivate a climate that fosters safety and educational success for all students, the report states.

Hamilton County Schools interim Superintendent Kirk Kelly released a statement after the report was released, stating that ensuring safety of the district's 43,000 students is a top priority.

The school board named Kelly superintendent in April, following former Superintendent Rick Smith's resignation in March.

Since being at the helm, Kelly said in the statement that significant changes have been made in the district including stricter policies, stronger training for employees and a more comprehensive approach to crisis management and communications.

"However, the report may provide us an additional opportunity to enhance our practices, provide better support and safety for all students moving forward," Kelly said.