Fruitland School District

Fruitland School District

FRUITLAND

After the original case was dismissed earlier this year, the legal representation of a former Fruitland High School student has filed a federal complaint and a demand for a jury trial against former assistant track and field coach Kelly Rhinehart and Fruitland School District.

The complaint was filed on Oct. 2 in the U.S. District Court under a pseudonym, as the plaintiff was under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged incidents. According to the complaint, Plaintiff Jennifer Doe was sexually abused by Rhinehart in several incidences occurring in 2018 and 2019.

According to the complaint, Rhinehart, who was a track coach at Fruitland High School (he resigned from his position in 2019), began communicating with the plaintiff in the spring or summer of 2018, using a family tragedy and the purchase of the plaintiff’s family home as a means to befriend her and the family. The complaint states that Rhinehart would attend her athletic events and ultimately convinced her to join the track team for the 2019 season.

Before the season, the complaint alleges that Rhinehart would practice basketball with the plaintiff, take her to games, sit alone with her and publicly acted flirtatious.

During track practices, the complaint reads, Rhinehart would act flirtatious and talk about sexual acts. In April 2019, there was a incident where Rhinehart had his hand on the Plaintiff’s leg while counting the students on the bus.

Also in April 2019, the complaint alleges that Rhinehart sexually abused the plaintiff while on school grounds multiple times, including an incident in the storage shed during track practice where another track coach saw the two leave the shed and did nothing.

There was an incident where the plaintiff hurt her ankle at practice. Rhinehart allegedly took her in his truck and said “they will think I’m taking you to the doctor, so this is perfect.” After they left the school, the complaint alleges that Rhinehart drove around and immediately turned the conversation sexual before abusing the Plaintiff. He then dropped her off at her car.

The complaint states that Rhinehart engages in “flirtatious and inappropriate conduct with Plaintiff openly and his conduct was observable by School coaches, staff, and personnel.”

Eventually, Rhinehart’s conduct was discovered and reported by the plaintiff’s friend, whose parents reported it to the school and authorities. The complaint says that upon discovery, Rhinehart instructed the plaintiff to delete all her calls and texts from her phone.

The complaint adds that the district allowed Rhinehart’s conduct to continue in 2019 “despite the fact that the District had received warnings about Rhinehart, and despite the fact that another Fruitland track and basketball coach had been removed from his position for inappropriate conduct toward female students and staff.”

The other staff member referenced is Mike Fitch, who was the former Fruitland High School principal and basketball coach. Fitch was acquitted on three misdemeanor sex crimes in October 2019. The allegations against Fitch were filed by a staff member at Fruitland High School.

Two students who attended the school filed separate tort claims against Fitch, alleging the former principal made inappropriate sexual comments or acted inappropriately with them. Fitch was placed on administrative leave in November of 2018.

There are nine counts that the complaint sites, including four counts citing violations of either 8th or 14th Amendment rights. In the first count, the complaint states that Fruitland School District was “deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff’s rights under the Eighth and/or Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.”

The complaint states that the district filed to have and maintain proper policies and procedures to protect its students from predatory behaviors of it’s employees, coaches and staff. It adds that the district failed to properly train its staff, employees and coaches to identify predatory behavior and failed to educate its students to recognize and report that behavior.

Count five is claiming a Title IX violation due to gender discrimination/sexually hostile culture. The complaint states that Title IX “protects employees and students of an education institution, including the District, from gender discrimination and harassment.” That said, the complaint alleges that the district “actively creates and was deliberately indifferent to a culture of sexual hostility by its staff members towards its students.”

The complaint lists seven items to defend that statement:

• Failing to address the reports and incidents of sexual harassment/inappropriate conduct by its staff members and volunteers towards its students.

• Hiring and retaining staff and volunteers with known or reported histories of inappropriate conduct with students and minors.

• Permitting and allowing observable and obvious predatory conduct between its staff/volunteers and its students.

• Failing to train all School and District members on how to identify, investigate, report and prevent grooming, boundary violations, and sexually predatory behavior.

• Failing to adopt sufficient policies and procedures and to how to identify, investigate, report and prevent grooming, boundary violations, and sexually predatory behavior.

• Failing to implement policies and procedures as to how to identify, investigate, report and prevent grooming, boundary violations, and sexually predatory behavior.

• Ignoring information indicating sexual conduct by its staff members towards its students.

The complaint closes with counts claiming negligence, sexual battery/rape of a minor, the intentional infliction of emotional distress and the negligent infliction of emotional distress.

On top of Rhinehart and Fruitland School District, the complaint names John/Jane Does I through X, which includes “entities or individuals who were the agents, employees, independent contractors, subdivisions, franchisees, wholly-owned subsidiaries, or divisions of Defendants herein or are entities or individuals acting on behalf of, or in concert with, Defendants herein.”

Originally, Rhinehart had been facing five felony counts, including rape, one count of sexual battery of a minor (defined as lewd or lascivious acts) and three counts of sexual battery of a minor (defined as sexual contact but not lewd).

The case against Rhinehart was dismissed, with Canyon County District Judge Davis VanderVelde signing off on it. VanderVelde replaced Payette County Judge Susan Wiebe, who issued a voluntary order of disqualification on Aug. 16, 2019.

Coaches manual changeAt the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, the Argus Observer filed two records requests with Fruitland School District, asking for coaches handbooks for that year and the 2018-2019 school year. Then-Superintendent Teresa Fabricius said the school district did not have a coaches handbook for the 18-19 school year, but one was made by Russ Wright for 19-20.

In the coaches manual, there are items referencing how to acts with students:

• Make sure that texting is done either through Remind 101, or kept at an incredibly high level of professionalism. MMS texting is best; for your protection, please include an assistant coach in your texts.

• Do not give athletes rides home.

• Never be in a one-on-one setting with a student athlete in an enclosed environment.

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