A female student has sued the Christian school she attended in western Michigan over its leaders’ alleged failure to prevent her sexual abuse by an art teacher and an older student.
The lawsuit was filed March 31 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan and seeks $25,000 in damages. It alleges that The Potter’s House, a preschool through 12th grade private school in Grand Rapids, Mich., and its leaders failed to comply with Title IX policies and “inflicted emotional distress” on the alleged victim, “Jane Doe.”
In January 2016, when Doe was in fifth grade, James “Jamie” Treadwell, 64, was an “artist in residence” at the school and rented a basement studio at a school-owned building adjacent to the school. The itinerant artist was then affiliated with a celibate religious brotherhood called The Servants of the Word, which subsequently broke ties with Treadwell following an investigation.
In the lawsuit, Doe claims a teacher escorted her class to Treadwell’s studio and then left the then-10-year-old student alone with Treadwell. Treadwell reportedly approached the girl and proceeded to put his hands down her pants and sexually assaulted her. “This is okay,” he told her, the lawsuit states.
In May 2020, Treadwell was charged with two felony counts of sexual assault, which included the Jan. 2016 incident involving Doe. On April 13, 2022, at Treadwell’s sentencing hearing, the judge dropped one charge and the other was reduced to attempted sexual conduct. Treadwell was sentenced to 14 days in jail followed by 18 months of probation, and required to register as a sex offender.
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The student’s mother, whom The Roys Report (TRR) is not naming to protect Doe’s identity, was present at the hearing last year. “He took so many years from my daughter and now he gets to walk free,” she told media after the sentencing. “That is hollow justice in my opinion.”
According to the lawsuit, leaders at Potter’s House had been informed of other sexual allegations against Treadwell but failed to act.
The suit claims school superintendent John Booy was first told in September 2016 about potential sexual harassment and assault allegations against Treadwell by a school counselor. The dean of students at The Potter’s House and a student’s parent also allegedly spoke in phone calls with Booy about the allegations. Booy called back the parent days later and said that Treadwell “will remain my friend until proven otherwise,” the lawsuit said.
Another parent, identified as the chair of elders at a local church, emailed Booy on October 6, 2016, recounting Treadwell’s pattern of “grooming” and behavior that represents a “dangerous situation.” Booy replied the same day that Treadwell had been barred from the studio space.
The lawsuit alleges that the school “took no action to protect the student body” and failed to have “any Title IX policy whatsoever.”
Victimized a second time
In fall 2019, when Jane Doe was a 14-year-old freshman, she was victimized a second time by a high school senior at The Potter’s House, the suit says. The student, alleged to be over age 16 and on a student visa, reportedly “engaged in a physical relationship” with Doe.
Doe’s guardian filed an incident report in Kent County because Doe was under 16—the age of consent in Michigan. The older student pleaded guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor and was placed on probation, according to the suit.
The lawsuit alleges that school officials “failed to remove” the older student from the school and he continued to attend online classes and was permitted to graduate. The suit also alleges Potter’s House High School Principal Alf Clark “chastised” the student’s guardian for contacting law enforcement.
According to the suit, the school and its leaders “placed the rights of the perpetrator over the safety and well-being” of the student.
The lawsuit alleges the school violated Title IX federal statutes by allegedly having no stated Title IX polices at the time. It also alleges negligence on the part of school leaders, who allegedly did not conduct a background check on Treadwell.
Title IX policies, which originate from a federal law in 1972, prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex. U.S. schools, including in Michigan, are tasked with ensuring protections against sexual abuse, assault, rape, and coercion on their campuses.
TRR reached out to The Potter’s House and to the school’s attorney but did not receive a response.
In a court filing on May 5, attorneys for the school disputed several factual claims in the suit. “Defendants deny that plaintiff is entitled to damages and deny liability to plaintiff,” the attorneys stated.
According to the school’s website, Booy remains the school superintendent and Clark remains the high school principal.
The next hearing in the case at the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan has not yet been scheduled.
Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his family live in the Washington, D.C. area.
5 thoughts on “Christian School in Michigan Sued for Alleged Failure to Prevent Student’s Abuse”
As reported, there is so much corroboration and probably documentation (did the school have a Title IX policy in place), that it is unclear on what basis the school authorities can argue that, ““Defendants deny that plaintiff is entitled to damages and deny liability to plaintiff”. It rather sounds as if the school will seek to deflect claims across questionable legal abstractions, rather than denying that sexual abuse of a minor occurred (albeit they speak of disputing some factual claims). On what grounds might a school “deny liability” regards what befell an attending student? On what basis could damages for responsibility not discharged, be denied?
The declaration of friendship with Treadwell by Booy, would seem to sit with the possibility of failing to carry out proper background checks on the claimed offender. Such things can happen at private schools.
Some Christian institutions have a simple yet powerful rule; an adult is NEVER to be alone with a child.
Yes, both our church and the Christian school where I work have that rule. Likewise, both perform background checks on those who are around the students.
It is always possible for the system of protection to fail, but the not alone rule and background checks go a long way to prevent any problems.
Unfortunately, some, if not many, Christian denominations and institutions would much rather cover up abuse with the evil and insane excuse that they’re protecting the church than protect victims.
Maybe conservative Christian organizations should start implementing the Billy Graham rule for contact with minors.
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