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Report: LaPorte School Corp. violated federal sexual harassment laws

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The LaPorte School Corporation could be hit with federal penalties after being found in violation of federal sexual harassment laws and not responding in a timely manner to complaints about a now former volleyball coach serving a 21 year prison sentence for a sexual relationship he had with one of his female players.

That's according to a report by the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, which also found teammates of the victim were harassed, intimidated, and in some instances, punished for voicing objection to the coach's misconduct.

Tim Stoesz, the attorney for the victim in a civil case against the school corporation, said he could not comment on whether the findings in theOctober 31report will have an impact on the outcome of the lawsuit filed by the victim in 2012 in LaPorte Circuit Court.

Stoesz of Westfield said he and the attorney representing the school corporation in the civil action, Michael Sears of Munster, have an agreement later converted into a court order not to speak publicly about specifics of the case.

''It is potential evidence and, therefore, I am precluded from discussing it,'' said Stoesz.

Stoesz, though, did say the report outlines ''much of what we believe to be true that happened, and I look forward to questioning Ms. Lebo and Mr. Gilliland under oath about the items found in the report.''

Mary Beth Lebo, the varsity girls volleyball coach during the time of the sexual relationship between the girl and then junior varsity girls volleyball coach Robert Ashcraft, and Ed Gilliland, who's still the high school athletic director, were charged with Class A misdemeanor failure of duty to report.

In January of 2014, they agreed to a pre-trial diversion that ordered the charges dismissed if they were not arrested for any other crimes over a 12 month period.

It was alleged they had knowledge or suspicion of an inappropriate relationship between Ashcraft and the girl and failed to report it to the proper authorities as required of school officials or anyone else in a position of authority.

The OCR report states the school corporation violated the Title IX portion of the United States Education amendments of 1972 that protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities which receive federal financial assistance.

Specifically, the OCR ruled the school corporation sexually discriminated against the victim by not responding promptly and effectively to complaints about the coach's behavior and failed to provide a speedy resolution after learning what was occurring between the student and Ashcraft as required under Title IX.

Behavior that drew complaints from parents and players included massages and meetings out of sight from players and school personnel along with text messages, according to testimony and other information that came out during the criminal proceedings.

In its report, the OCR also ruled the school corporation's sexual harassment and sexual violence policies and procedures do not comply with the standards in Title IX.Areas lacking in the policies include no provisions for protecting the alleged target of harassment and no requirement to inform the complainant of the right to proceed with a criminal investigation and a Title IX complaint.

The OCR also revealed the corporation was notified in July that its policies were found in violation and a proposed settlement agreement that would resolve the areas of non-compliance were e-mailed to the school district's attorney.

The attorney in September told the OCR that he hoped to response to the settlement offer byOctober 1but later expressed an unwillingness to sign any document until after December when Gilliland and Lebo would be willing to provide statements to the OCR, according to the report.

Telephone calls to Sears and school corporation attorney Bill Kaminski to find out if steps have been taken to come into compliance were not returned.

The OCR reports also states continued refusal to come into compliance will mean referring the corporation for enforcement actions.

Telephone calls to the OCR to learn if compliance has been attained and the type of penalties that could be leveled were also not returned.

According to the lawsuit, the victim is seeking $500,000 to $700,000 in damages for each of the 25 sexual encounters she claims happened between her and Ashcraft from September 2007 to the summer of 2009

She was a 15-year old freshman in the fall of 2007 when selected to play on the girls junior varsity volleyball team coached by Ashcraft.

Ashcraft, 49, was no longer employed in October of 2008 after his contract was not renewed but the victim alleges the sexual activity continued for nearly a year, according to her civil lawsuit.

Evidence presented at his 2011 trial showed Ashcraft began having contact with the girl in 2007 when she was 14 at a volleyball camp not connected to the school corporation that he was running and later the relationship developed into a sexual one.

Stoesz said he also could not disclose if there have been any attempts to reach an out of court settlement in the case

''I don't think it's appropriate under the circumstances,'' said Stoesz.

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