NORTH ANDOVER — Leaders of the North Andover School District are being sued by two former students and a parent who say reports of rape and sexual assault were mishandled at the high school.
The girls, whose identities are protected in court documents, are represented by Attorney Andrew Miltenberg. He wants the case to be "a warning for schools throughout the country of how not to handle Title IX investigations."
Title IX is a federal civil rights law that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal money.
In an exclusive statement to The Eagle-Tribune, Miltenberg called the North Andover High School case “one of the most egregious mishandlings of sexual assault investigations” he has ever seen.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Boston, was launched by two girls who were freshmen at North Andover High School in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
The younger girl — a minor whose mother is also listed as a plaintiff in the case — said she left North Andover High because of the negative way she was treated by school officials when she told them about being raped and then sexually assaulted months later by her classmate, Eliezer Tuttle.
The other girl said in the lawsuit that she felt forced into North Andover’s night school program in order to avoid Tuttle, who also attacked her. Tuttle was arrested for that assault and put on probation, but Massachusetts law allowed him to stay in school because he was not charged with a felony.
Tuttle, now 19, is currently jailed in New Hampshire, where he has remained for almost a year awaiting trial in March for a separate rape case.
Both girls behind the lawsuit were presented with documents labeled “school safety plans” following their respective attacks. The plans dictated where they could be at North Andover High in relation to Tuttle, including certain hallways they could walk down and others they needed to avoid, as well as when they had to stay away from the gym during Tuttle’s wrestling practice.
A mother of one of the girls stepped in to prevent her daughter from agreeing to the plan. The other signed it and was issued a new, updated version when she started attending classes at night. Both plans threatened suspension if disobeyed.
The lawsuit cites the agreements in accusing Superintendent Gregg Gilligan and High School Principal Chet Jackson, as well as Assistant Principals Scott Young and Brooke Randall, of failing at their job to maintain a safe and secure learning environment for students, especially the ones who reported attacks.
As of Friday afternoon, school officials had yet to receive a copy of the lawsuit.
A statement emailed to The Eagle-Tribune from Attorney John Davis reads as follows: “North Andover school officials have not yet received any suit papers filed by or on behalf of the former students, and therefore, can make no comment on the substance of any allegations.”
The statement elaborated, “At the time the students came forward, however, school officials timely and appropriately investigated their reports in full compliance with Title IX and in protection of the students’ civil rights.”
A full report will appear in Sunday's print edition of The Eagle-Tribune and online at eagletribune.com.