Spencer County Administration Reportedly Ignores Pleas for Help
Rural School District is Dominated by Fundamentalist Christians
By Jack Nichols
Spencer County is a rural area dominated by fundamentalist Christians and is located southeast of Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville's Courier-Journal, September 2, tells how a 17-year old former schoolgirl, Alma McGowan, is currently testifying before a federal jury that after suffering jeers and continuing harassment between her 11th and 15th years, she was driven from the Spencer County public school system.
An 18-year old boy, Steven Vance, has also testified he was accused by fellow students of being gay and that some had asked him for sexual favors. Vance suffers a form of autism. He'd been too frightened, he now reports, to tell school authorities. The suit requests compensation in an undisclosed amount.
The harassment suffered by Ms. McGowan was both sexual and ethnic in nature, including taunts that the young girl was a lesbian. Alma McGowan's mother is a German immigrant. On the second day of school, in sixth grade, students were calling Alma "that German gay girl."
Her attempts to redress the indignities visited on her, she said, were either dismissed or ignored by local school officials. A lawyer for the Spencer County school system, Bob Chenoweth, insists that his school administrator clients have no recollection of the girl's having made pleas for assistance.
Even so, Ms. McGowan, now attending Jefferson Community College, wrote for her school's publication, thus alerting officials to her difficulties in an essay titled "The New Girl" and in a poem called "Ready to Drop Out". She was complimented for her literary talents, she told the jury,--but no one took action on her behalf. Neither of the written pieces, argued the school system's attorney, had specifically mentioned the teasing.
But in one instance, according to Ms. McGowan, an assistant principal, David Shelburne, told her that specific taunts were only the expressions of a boy who had a crush on her.
One such boy, according to the girl's testimony, backed her up against a wall, commenced to remove his trousers, and threatened her with rape, saying that if she'd slept with the devil, she would also be welcome to sleep with him.
This occurrence took place following a classroom discussion about abortion in which Ms. McGowan had expressed free-choice sentiments. Students accused her, she says, of "sleeping with the devil" and asked her how a "good Christian" could possibly want to murder babies.
On the day following this incident, Ms. McGowan presented Spencer County school officials with a note from her mother which said that the young girl might have been injured had not a single boy had the courage to rescue her from her tormenters.
She was forced by a teacher to tell what had happened in a room in which the boys she'd accused were present. No punishments, as far as she could determine, were meted out to the boys. Instead, she testified, she was subjected to a new round of taunts, calling her "that German gay girl tattletale."
On another occasion when Ms. McGowan helped pull a float into a school assembly, students shouted "lezzie" at her but were not reprimanded by teachers.
In seventh grade, following a boy's loudly addressed question to her about her purported lesbianism, she was accused by other students of lying when she denied same-sex attraction.
Both Vance and McGowan are arguing that their rights under Title XI have been violated. Their attorney, Oliver Barber says that the school system failed both the boy and the girl.
Ms. McGowan, immediately following students' taunts, testified that she did not then know the meaning of "gay" and went forthwith to look it up in the dictionary.
On one occasion a fellow student told her that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and that he would see to it that her family's house was burned to the ground.
The Louisville-based trial is expected to end late this week.