GALLATIN, TN (WSMV) - A family has filed a lawsuit against the Sumner County Board of Education for failing to protect their son from sexual assault, battery and exploitation by a teacher.
The family claims the Sumner County Board of Education failed to protect the son from Robert Ring, a teacher at Shafer Middle School. Ring is also a defendant in the lawsuit.
"We knew that lines had been crossed. We didn't know the extent of what they had been crossed at," says the mother who we are not identifying under her request to protect her underage son.
She said, "His exact words to me were 'I think my teacher is a sexual predator' and I said 'Hey we have to be really careful with things like that. I can assure you the school would never hire somebody like that.’"
Getting choked up thinking about the night in May 2019 when it all came to light, the mother described some of what her son told her happened. It included Ring texting her son and Ring putting the child on the detention list so he’d be sent to his classroom. The mother also claims the former teacher asked the child’s parents tracked his phone, if he could ride his bike into town where Ring could pick him up, and if the 12-year-old could come to his home to do yard work.
“You have someone that your child is supposed to look up to for guidance and I think it very quickly escalated and took a very sick turn,” said the mother.
The new civil suit alleges that Ring not only had inappropriate conversations about sex with the child but also physical contact. It includes the former teacher thrusting his genital area onto the child’s buttock area while he was trying to open a jammed locker, squeezing the child’s thigh and moving his hand up the thigh towards the genital area, and pulling the child’s head into his crotch to simulate oral sex.
Attorney Rocky McElhaney is representing the family. He said, “This young student, this child should be praised for making this known, for bringing this to the light. And that's what's most important."
Five students including the one in this story were already a part of a criminal case involving Ring. Back in September Ring took a plea deal and was charged with aggravated assault. He was put on three years of probation with community service and the chance to have his record expunged.
McElhaney said, "We felt like for all these victims that that was a miscarriage of justice, like the punishment did not fit the crime."
The victim’s mother added, “My kid's life does not go back to normal in three years and it won't. He will deal with this for a really long time. Even so much when he has his own kids, wondering if he's leaving them with someone you're supposed to be able to trust."
As part of this new civil suit, the family wants the Sumner County Board of Education to take some responsibility in what happened.
"We'd like to see the board of education admit their wrongdoing. Right now they've got two opportunities. When a lawsuit is filed like this, they can say ‘Hey yeah look, let's study this and lets do better and lets protect the next bunch of kids.’ Or they can put their head in the sand and say ‘We didn't do anything wrong,’ and deny and deny and delay," said McElhaney.
In a statement from the Sumner County Board of Education they say:
“The Sumner County Board of Education is aware that this family filed a lawsuit. The Board categorically denies this family’s allegations. Because of the nature of the allegations and out of respect for the privacy of the involved families and students, the Board will not provide specific comments. Instead, the Board is prepared to defend the case and will respond more fully in court.”
The mother says this case isn’t just for her and her son, but for the other children who say they’re victims and the ones too afraid to come forward.
She said, "I don't know that there is justice in this but, we've got to take them seriously when they say something. we've got to realize that maybe there is something more going on and not turn a blind eye to it.”
News4 reached out to John Pellegrin who represented Ring during the criminal suit. He said he hadn’t seen the new lawsuit but heard about it. He said that he had advised Ring during the last trial not to comment.