The Sumner County Board of Education didn’t do enough to protect a middle school student from being sexually harassed and assaulted by his teacher by failing to act on previous reports of the teacher’s questionable behavior, according to a civil lawsuit filed Monday in Sumner County Circuit Court.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of “Father Doe” and “Mother Doe,” names both the school district and former Joe Shafer Middle School teacher Robert Ring as defendants.
Ring, 50, taught social studies at the school until May of 2019 when allegations surfaced that he had inappropriate conversations and contact of a sexual nature with more than one student.
The teacher was arrested and charged June 7, 2019 with two counts each of aggravated sexual battery, a Class B felony, and assault for four separate incidents that occurred in April and May of 2019.
On Sept. 17 of this year, Ring pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated assault. As part of the plea agreement, the three other charges were dropped and he was sentenced to three years’ probation. After serving the probation, the teacher will have his record expunged and won’t have to register as a sex offender. He was also ordered to surrender his teaching license, pay $630 in restitution and perform 500 hours of community service.
The parents of one of the victims in the criminal case against Ring has filed the civil lawsuit in order to receive some form of justice, according to the family’s attorney, Penny McElhaney of the Rocky McElhaney Law Firm.
“The criminal justice system failed the victims by letting a sexual predator off easy,” said McElhaney.
“Robert Ring can have his record expunged after serving only three years of probation. His victims and their families will carry the scars of this abuse for the rest of their lives.”
The student identified as “Victim Doe” in the lawsuit was a 12-year-old student of Ring’s when the alleged abuse occurred from around April 1-May 31, 2019.
The lawsuit alleges several instances in which Ring would isolate the student so that he could have inappropriate sexual conversations with him – often by assigning the student to lunchtime detention or keeping him in his classroom during recess.
Several inappropriate actions are also alleged, including the teacher simulating masturbation with a rolled-up poster and encouraging the student to try drugs and alcohol and to call him if he “ever needed a ride.”
The lawsuit also alleges several instances where Ring touched the boy inappropriately while at the school.
On May 16, 2019, the student was afraid that things were escalating and he didn’t want to be alone with Ring the next day, according to the complaint. That night he told his parents about Ring’s actions. The boy’s parents met with the principal the next day, local authorities were contacted and Ring was suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.
The lawsuit also alleges that the school system was negligent by not acting sooner to protect students like “Victim Doe.”
“Prior to the incidents involving Victim Doe, managers, school personnel, employees, agents and servants of Sumner County Board of Education had received other reports of inappropriate and explicit conversations that defendant Robert Ring had with students as well as inappropriate sexual contact,” according to the lawsuit.
“According to our investigation, the school system had prior reports of sexual misconduct by Robert Ring,” said McElhaney. “They knew this teacher was a predator, and they did nothing. They allowed a sexual predator to continue to prey upon innocent children entrusted to his care. These types of institutional cover-ups have to stop.”
The boy has suffered severe emotional trauma and continues to suffer from nightmares and PTSD, according to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs are asking for a jury to hear the case, and are seeking $1 million in compensatory damages and no more than $750,000 in punitive damages.
Sumner County Spokesperson Jeremy Johnson did not return a phone call by this newspaper’s deadline. The school system does not typically comment on pending litigation.