Two former Concordia Preparatory School students have filed federal lawsuits alleging the Towson private school and the governing body of the Lutheran Church ignored their reports of sexual assault and harassment on campus.
A Harford County woman, who was a minor at the time of the allegations, filed a suit Thursday in U.S. District Court arguing Concordia administrators and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod failed to investigate her reports and discriminated against her when she spoke out.
According to the suit, the then-high school student and her mother, who was a teacher at Concordia at the time, say school administrators suspended the girl and threatened to inform another school — to which she was attempting to transfer — of the punishment if they continued to speak of the assaults.
In a statement, Concordia officials declined to comment on the pending litigation and said “the safety and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff are of utmost concern to us. As we stated before, we do not tolerate disregard of our code of conduct and sexual harassment policy, and we thoroughly and promptly take appropriate responsive action to all alleged violations.”
Lutheran church officials did not respond to a Thursday afternoon request for comment. Concordia is formerly known as Baltimore Lutheran School and is affiliated with the church
A second Harford County minor also filed a federal lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court, alleging the school and the Lutheran Church ignored her report of harassment coming from a Chromebook registered to a school. The suit also claims the school failed to contact law enforcement when the girl and her parents reported that another student had sexually assaulted her after a school function in 2019.
Concordia and Lutheran church officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The complaints follow a similar lawsuit filed Oct. 28 by the family of a third former student, also from Harford County, stating that Concordia’s administrators and staff failed to investigate when a sexually explicit video of the underage girl — taken without her consent — was circulated around the student body. Male students then repeatedly harassed the teen, who was later sexually assaulted in a religion class and a locker room, the suit states.
Concordia officials denied the allegations in the Oct. 28 lawsuit and plan to “vigorously defend against it,” school spokeswoman Jane Ponton said in an email last week. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is not named as a defendant in the suit.
Asked about the allegations in the Oct. 28 complaint, Baltimore County police said they are reopening an investigation “based on the new information.”
Plaintiffs in all three lawsuits are represented by Christina Graziano of Ketterer, Browne & Anderson. The Sun typically does not identify victims of sexual assault.
According to the complaint filed Thursday, the incidents began around spring of 2019 when three members of the boys soccer team began routinely making sexually explicit comments and gestures toward the girl during class, at sports functions and on social media during school hours.
The girl repeatedly reported the harassment to a teacher, who told her that she would take care of it and that “everything would be fine.”
Around the same time, a male football player also made similar comments to the girl in front of her mother, who was his teacher. The girl and her mother both reported the incident to the headmaster, who, according to the lawsuit, instructed them to “leave it alone” and discouraged the girl from further reporting the conduct.
Around March 2019 on two different occasions, two soccer players assaulted the girl by putting their hands up her skirt during an anatomy class. And another male student grabbed the girl’s arm and forced her hand against his genitals during a math class, according to the suit.
The girl reported the math class assault to her teacher the same day, the suit says, and another male student who witnessed the incident corroborated the report to Concordia administrators.
Following the math class assault, the lawsuit says the girl was pulled out of class in front of her classmates to attend meetings in the administrative offices every day for about a week. Concordia administrators failed to report the assault to state or local authorities, failed to conduct an investigation or take action against the boys, the lawsuit states.
The girl began attending school virtually to avoid the boys and other Concordia students who were bullying her for speaking out against the athletes. She and her mother soon decided to seek out another high school to attend during her senior year.
Around the same time, administrators and the headmaster called a meeting with the girl and informed her that she was suspended for one day. According to the lawsuit, the headmaster told the girl and her mother that if she continued to speak out about the assaults she would jeopardize the soccer players' college athletics scholarships. He also warned that if they continued to speak out, he would inform her intended transfer school of the suspension, threatening her admissions chances, according to the suit.
According to the other lawsuit filed Friday, the girl said she began receiving sexually suggestive texts and social media messages from older male students around Sept. 2019.
On Sept. 30, the girl’s family received a vulgar message about her on their business’s website. The message was later traced to a Chromebook computer registered to Concordia. The girl’s mother reported the incident to Concordia’s director of admissions, who took no action, according to the lawsuit.
On Oct. 11, 2019, the girl attended a bonfire and talent show on Concordia’s campus. When her ride home fell through, one of the students who had been harassing her offered to give her and two male friends a ride home, the suit states.
When the student dropped the boys off first, the girl texted her best friend that she felt uncomfortable. The student then drove the girl to a secluded church parking lot in Parkville, where he digitally raped her and attempted to coerce her into having sex, the lawsuit states.
The girl resisted and pushed him away. After he drove her home, she called her best friend to discuss the assault and later told her mother on Nov. 10.
The headmaster told the girl and her parents that the school would not proceed with any investigation unless criminal charges were filed, according to the suit.
The girl’s parents called the police and reported the assault. Baltimore County police arrested the student and charged him with second-degree rape and assault, and fourth-degree sexual offense. Efforts to reach the student were unsuccessful.
The girl’s mother called Concordia officials after the charges were filed, and according to the suit, the school took no action to discipline the three male students.
Both lawsuits filed this week also describe a clash between the administration and several staff members, who expressed concerned about allegations of sexual assault and harassment.
A Concordia school psychologist abruptly left her position around 2017 after repeated clashes with the school headmaster, who, according to the suit, refused to allow her to implement mandatory reporting policies for sexual assault cases.
And a group of teachers — including the student’s mother — reported concerns over the administration’s treatment of sexual assault and harassment on campus to Concordia’s board of directors, but no action was taken. The group also shared their concerns with administrators during monthly “all-faculty” meetings, according to the filing.
During the 2018-19 school year, Lutheran church officials sent a crisis management team to Concordia, who instituted “gag orders” on staff members. The lawsuit does not describe what the gag orders covered. Several teachers left their jobs at Concordia at the conclusion of the school year in protest of the administration’s response, the lawsuit states.
While Maryland law requires certain classes of people — including educators — to report suspected child abuse by a guardian, the law does not necessarily apply to a child victimized by a peer, said Adam Rosenberg, an attorney and executive director of the Baltimore Child Abuse Center.
“That’s the gray area of mandated reporting,” Rosenberg said. “But I think there’s a social contract there that they should report it based on the fact that [schools are] custodians of our children.”
Some educational institutions tend to treat sex crimes differently than other crimes reported on campuses. For example, while school officials would most likely call police if a body was found on campus, they may not pick up the phone in cases of sexual assault and harassment, Rosenberg said.
“Sometimes we find that schools want to undertake their own investigation before reporting abuse,” Rosenberg said. “More often than not, they’re not equipped to do it. They end up asking leading questions, intentionally or unintentionally covering up the incident to protect the school."
The former Concordia Preparatory students claim in the lawsuit that they have received mental health treatment following the incidents. They are both seeking compensatory and punitive damages.