Metro police are still trying to sort out the aftermath of a party thrown by teenagers in January, which involved students at some of Nashville’s most prestigious private schools and has already resulted in at least one firing and possible criminal charges. But one school’s reaction to it has raised questions and may have slowed the ability of investigators to determine what went on.
On the night of Saturday, Jan. 14, a party was underway at a Belle Meade home. There are alleged instances of underage drinking and prescription drug abuse, but are also allegations of another crime, either rape or sexual assault by an authority figure.
From sources familiar with the events of the evening, who spoke on condition of anonymity, The City Paper has learned the main participants involved had time to contact legal counsel before the police were informed. Law enforcement officials have been unable to obtain the cooperation of some witnesses and suspects in their effort to determine details of the night.
Sources confirm that an underage male had sex with a teacher in her mid-30s. She was employed by his school, Montgomery Bell Academy, and has since been fired while the boy still attends the school. The home in question is owned by a Nashville attorney, who was out of town that night, and had asked the eighth-grade teacher to housesit for them. The owner of the home’s son attends Ensworth School.
The same sources, which spoke to The City Paper on background, said a number of high school students and college freshmen from the area allegedly descended on the home. It was sort of a reunion of high school upperclassmen and their college freshmen friends home on break.
This party, however, was not the typical underage drinking and proverbial raiding of the liquor cabinet that one might expect from kids of that age. While that allegedly occurred, some of the attendees were having what is called a “Pharm Party.”
A few teenagers had raided their homes’ prescription drug cabinets and gathered up pills. The pills were then thrown into a bowl, and individuals took a random pill, ingested it and then waited to see what happened. Not all who attended the party tried the drugs.
The City Paper has learned the names of some of the attendees at the house that evening, and confirmed that they include current and former students of MBA, Ensworth and Currey-Ingram Academy.
At 11 o’clock that evening, Belle Meade police were called to the home by a neighbor because three cars were parked partially on the road, creating a traffic hazard, as there were a number of social gatherings on the road that evening. One of those cars belonged to the family of a current member of the MBA board of trustees.
Because the cars only presented a traffic hazard, the officer asked three young males to move them. The officer had no indication that anything illicit was occurring at the home, or would. Inside, the eighth-grade MBA teacher supervising the home had a sexual encounter with a 17-year-old student. It has also been alleged that she had similar encounters with two more individuals that night and possibly more. The question authorities have been unable to answer is whether she engaged in sexual activity willingly or whether she was taken advantage of in an intoxicated state.
By Monday, Jan. 16, two days after the party, rumors ran rampant among high school students. It wasn’t long until an MBA teacher heard from students what had allegedly happened and informed MBA headmaster Brad Gioia.
According to MBA personnel who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, by Thursday, January 19 the teacher had been fired. By that afternoon, middle school teachers at MBA asked the administration how to respond to questions from parents who were also hearing from their sons about the incident.
On Friday, Jan. 20, Gioia informed MBA faculty at a staff meeting that the teacher had been fired but did not get into details. Gioia told the assembled faculty that the teacher had been in an “altered state of mind” when the incident occurred.
That same day, the office of District Attorney General Torry Johnson, was informed of the event according to the DA’s spokeswoman Susan Niland.
A source familiar with the events said that Gioia spoke directly with Johnson about the matter.
On Monday, Jan. 23, the Metro police Sex Crimes Unit, the law enforcement organization that heads up all such investigations in Davidson County, was informed by the District Attorney’s office of the incident and launched an investigation. That investigation is ongoing.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services also has, by state law, authority and responsibility to investigate allegations of a teacher having sex with a student.
DCS has confirmed to The City Paper that they have an open investigation regarding the events of that evening, but The City Paper has also learned from sources close to the investigation that they were not contacted until early February.
In the time before any law enforcement was called, Gioia had advised all parties that would be involved in the investigation, including the teacher and the family of the 17-year-old, to obtain a lawyer. He even provided a list of some of Nashville’s most prominent criminal defense attorneys to them.
The individuals involved in this case did not hire attorneys recommended by Gioia, a list multiple sources have described as “friendly” to the interests of MBA.
On Jan. 25, after local TV stations had picked up the report, Gioia sent an email to MBA families that stated in part, “I appreciate the many concerns, questions, and worries you have expressed about talking with your sons. I have addressed this issue generally in assembly. Please feel free to have very direct conversations with your sons about appropriate relationships, decision-making, and legal matters. MBA is a great place. This problem will not and should not define us. In fact, we should — as some of you suggest — use this issue to make us stronger and better.”
He also included in that email a message he had sent to the families of MBA middle school students. It stated in part, “I know that most of you have heard the sad news about a Junior School teacher. We are distraught as well about this situation, but I assure you we have responded quickly and deliberately with an interest in the individuals, MBA's welfare and responsibilities, and helping your sons move ahead positively. Let me emphasize the following: 1. As soon as I heard this news, I dealt with it directly and without hesitation about our responsibilities. 2. As required by law, I turned over all information to the authorities. I am bound by law not to discuss these issues.”
According to state law, (Tenn. Code Ann. § 37-1-403 (2012)), school officials that are aware of a situation that in any way involves known or alleged child abuse, including sex between a teacher and a minor, must immediately upon knowledge of such information notify the Tennessee Department of Children's Services or one of several other agencies.
Among those agencies mentioned is the Juvenile Court of the county where the incident occurred, the police/sheriff, or chief law enforcement official of the municipality where the child resides.
The law states that, "school" means any public or privately operated child care agency, as defined in § 71-3-501, preschool, nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school or secondary school.
The law also states that the verbal notice shall be made in coordination with the department of children's services to the parent or legal guardian within 24 hours from the time the school reports the abuse to the department of children's services, judge or law enforcement, and that in no event may the notice be later than 24 hours from the time the report was made.
DCS was not notified until the month [about two weeks later] following the incident.
The administration at Beech High School in response to an incident involving a teacher stands in stark contrast.
On Wednesday, Jan. 25, 32-year-old Darrell Keen was arrested by the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office on the charge of aggravated statutory rape. He allegedly had sex with a 17-year-old girl at a Hendersonville hotel on Dec. 18, 2011. Keen worked as a math teacher and assistant football coach at Beech High School. A student reported the incident to a school official on January 24. Within 24 hours, an arrest was made.
Beech High School Principal Frank Cardwell would not comment on the case, but said when his office learns of an allegation of this nature they contact their school resource officer, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office, and the Sumner County schools Human Resources Officer.
Cardwell added that he and other educators leave the investigation to those authorities.
A similar incident occurred at a Davidson County public high school.
On Wednesday, Feb. 8, an anonymous letter arrived in the mail for Glencliff High School Principal Clint Wilson. That letter alleged that math teacher Kyra Bryant, 29, was engaged in a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female student.
Wilson would not comment on the case but said when allegations of this nature are made, he contacts his school resource officer, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Metro Police and a Metro Nashville Public Schools human resources officer.
He stated that when a teacher is accused of such activity, they must physically report to the Metro Schools office on Bransford Avenue. and it is decided there whether to place the teacher on paid or unpaid leave. The school has no discretion in the matter and the investigation is left to the law enforcement authorities.
Bryant chose to resign her teaching position when she reported to the Metro Schools headquarters and on Friday, March 2, she was indicted by a Davidson County grand jury on four counts of statutory rape by an authority figure.
While some time elapsed before she was indicted, the investigation to this matter was handled by law enforcement authorities from the moment the school was informed of the allegation.
The investigation by multiple agencies is ongoing.