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Parents of former Lakeridge dancer file federal lawsuit against school district

Family alleges that their 14-year-old daughter was bullied and hazed and the school district failed to protect her


The parents of a former Lakeridge High School dancer filed a federal lawsuit Friday against the Lake Oswego School District for reasons that include illegal activities “sanctioned by defendants,” bullying and harassment.

Leta Gorman, the attorney for the girl's parents, said Ray and Taissa Achcar-Winkels were forced to file a complaint and a demand for a jury trial March 6 in U.S. District Court because of how the school district treated their 14-year-old daughter. The summary of an independent investigation, released in December, concluded that there was sufficient evidence to suggest that the girl and other dancers were hazed during an Aug. 9 initiation.

The defendants are listed as the school district, Superintendent Heather Beck, Lakeridge Principal Jennifer Schiele, Athletic Director Ian Lamont, head dance team coach Kayla Nordlum, Ashley Nordlum (assistant coach and Kayla Nordlum’s sister), volunteer team manager Suzanne Young and “unknown staff."

The lawsuit claims that the defendants failed to act in a manner consistent with the policies of both the high school and the school district, failed to comply with state law and failed to protect the rights afforded to the plaintiffs under the U.S. Constitution.

The Achcar-Winkels' daughter is no longer a member of the dance team “because, despite being ordered to remain silent about the inappropriate, illegal, and immoral activities sponsored, supported, and sanctioned by defendants, Doe Child made the courageous decision to speak up about the activities,” the lawsuit says. “As a result of speaking up, Doe Child has been and continues to face bullying, harassment, and retaliation from defendants.

"Doe Child has been forced off the dance team. Doe Child’s parents have also been harassed incessantly, both privately and publicly, and Doe Child’s mother has been ridiculed for being of Brazilian descent," the lawsuit says. "Defendants’ conduct has interfered with Doe Child’s rights under the United States Constitution.”

The Review is not naming the former dancer in news coverage of the alleged hazing incident or in stories about the legal action.

The family is seeking damages to compensate the girl for psychological trauma and other injuries “resulting from defendants’ conduct” and an end to “the culture existing at Lakeridge High School that knowingly allows its staff, students, and volunteers to (a) interfere with a student’s freedom of speech and right to an education and (b) assault, batter, haze, bully, cyberbully, harass, false imprison, sexually harass, and retaliate.”

The 47-page lawsuit offers more details than have previously been released about the Aug. 9 "bonding" event, which an investigation by The Hungerford Law Firm characterized as hazing. That investigation was ordered by Beck after parents and community members complained to her about incidents they said occurred before, during and after the team gathering.

Among the new details contained in the lawsuit and its more than 60 pages of exhibits are quotes from emails sent by Kayla Nordlum, who remains head coach of the team. The lawsuit quotes one email from Nordlum to the girl's mother as saying, “I hope I don’t hear anything more about this night from anyone else but you, but if I do it could result in some sort of suspension for [Doe Child]. It isn’t fair to my team and I won’t have it.”

At the Aug. 9 initiation, the parents allege, their daughter and other incoming dancers were pelted with water pistols; covered with syrup and feathers and told to wrestle in front of intoxicated students; coaxed to step deeper and deeper into the Willamette River late at night; and forced to ride unbuckled on the floor of cars.

The former dancer reported the incident to dance team technical coach Lily Schauffler. (Schauffler later quit, saying the issue was being mishandled.) Schauffler took the issue to Lamont, who announced last week that he was resigning from his job, effective June 30.

Lamont took the information to Schiele, and school administrators dealt with the issue by reading school policy on hazing to all athletes and coaches. Beck retained the Hungerford firm after the incident came to her attention.

The lawsuit and the Hungerford report both claim that the former dancer was harassed and bullied for having come forward, not only by other students but also by head coach Nordlum. The lawsuit includes examples of email traffic between Nordlum, the victim and her family and team manager Suzanne Young. Among other things, Young is alleged to have ridiculed Taissa Achcar-Winkels for being of Brazilian descent.

In one text exchange, Young calls Achcar-Winkels a "psychopath" and says, "How do you look at yourself in the mirror. You are a disgusting human being." Achcar-Winkels asks Young to remove her phone number from her contacts and responds, "Please stop bullying and texting me. Thank you."

The lawsuit says that school and district administrators had the power to decide whether to retain the Nordlum sisters as coaches and whether Young would remain as a volunteer.

“The defendants, acting individually and through agents, employees, volunteers, and participating parents, had a duty to protect the rights of Doe Child and her family,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit asks the court to require the district to bar Kayla and Ashley Nordlum and Young from serving as a coach or volunteer in the district. The complaint also asks that the district be required to institute mandatory training programs, including assemblies, regarding hazing and bullying.

Although the district does not publicly discuss disciplinary action taken against personnel or students, the lawsuit says that no students were punished for what they did — including the bullying that followed the hazing incident. Kayla Nordlum has told The Review that she prefers not to comment. Young previously has said the allegations against her are untrue and “not worth responding to."

The district has responded to the hazing and subsequent issues, however.

On Jan. 13, Beck announced a plan to combat hazing and bullying in Lake Oswego schools. That plan involves educating students, parents, volunteers and staff throughout the district about hazing and bullying; it also includes training coaches, assessing the athletic department and seeking public input to initiate improvements.

An assembly was held at Lakeridge last month to raise awareness, and a report is due out in May on the athletic department's policies and procedures.

The district also has launched a website to keep the community apprised of efforts to address any potential school culture issues: www.edline.net/pages/Lake_Oswego_School_District/Parent_Info/Culture.

An update on a plan to improve school culture is scheduled to be presented to the Lake Oswego School Board on Monday.

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