A northern Indiana school corporation has been cleared of legal wrongdoing in the events leading up to the arrest of a high school teacher who was having a sexual relationship with a student. A district court judge granted the school district’s motions for summary judgment on Thursday.
Jakob Robinson, a physical education teacher at McCutcheon High School, part of the Tippecanoe School Corporation, met 14-year-old Jane Doe 2 when she was a freshman. The two developed a mentorship relationship and often spent time together at school, with Doe working as Robinson’s teacher’s assistant and spending her lunch hours in the physical education office.
The two then began spending time together outside of school, but when Doe’s mother, counselors and other local parents raised concerns about the relationship to the school’s principal, John Beeker, they either denied or did not indicate the relationship was sexual. However, Robinson and then-16-year-old Doe had begun a sexual relationship during her junior year and would have sex on school grounds.
All instances of sexual intercourse occurred away from the school, and in one instance Robinson took Doe to his parents’ home during the school day to have sex. Assistant principals Michael Lowrey and Fred Roop followed Doe and Robinson to the home, then returned to the school and accessed his email account. While none of the messages between the two were inappropriate, some had been sent late at night.
Meanwhile, Doe and Robinson concocted a plan in which they went to McDonald’s after leaving his parents’ house and purchased drinks so that they could tell people they had gone to lunch. Thus, when Beeker called Doe into his office that day, she carried her McDonald’s cup with her, causing him to believe the lie.
Robinson was arrested at the start of the spring semester in January 2015 after police found evidence of his communications with Doe. The girl’s mother then filed the instant case against the school corporation, Beeker and Roop, alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and Title IX protections.
Judge Rudy Lozano granted summary judgment to the defendants on each of those motions on Thursday, noting initially the girl’s mother failed to respond to the motion for summary judgment on the Section 1983 claim, thus waiving her argument under that section. Turning to the alleged Title IX violations, Lozano addressed two central issues: whether the district and school administrators had actual knowledge of Robinson’s misconduct, and whether they had acted with deliberate indifference to that conduct.
Though Beeker may have suspected an inappropriate relationship existed between Robinson and Doe, the plaintiff failed to present evidence that he had actual knowledge of the sexual relationship, Lozano wrote. Under Hansen v. Board of Trustee of Hamilton Southeastern School Corp., 551 F.3d 599, 604 (7th Cir. 2008), “a plaintiff in a Title IX damages suit based on a teacher’s behavior must prove … actual knowledge of misconduct, not just actual knowledge of the risk of misconduct …,” he wrote.
“Robinson and Doe only hugged, kissed or engaged in sexual activity in private,” the judge wrote. “They were never seen by anyone engaging in such conduct. Plaintiff is aware of no adult who had any information about the fact that Robinson and Doe were having a sexual relationship.”’
Further, Doe’s mother failed to prove the district and school officials acted with deliberate indifference to Robinson’s conduct, Lozano said, considering Beeker sought information from school officials, parents and Doe and Robinson themselves to determine if their relationship was inappropriate. Thus, the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the Title IX claims, he said.
The plaintiff also raised a negligence claim against the defendants, but because the court dismissed the Section 1983 and Title IX claims, it no longer had jurisdiction to consider the negligence issue, Lozano said. He also remanded all remaining claims — which included the plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of contributory negligence, the defendants’ motion to limit or exclude expert witnesses, and the plaintiff’s motion for leave to supplement an expert’s qualifications — back to the Tippecanoe Circuit Court.
Robinson previously appealed his sentence of eight years, with five years executed and three years suspended to probation, in Jakob Robinson v. State of Indiana, 79A02-1603-CR-522. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld his sentence on his child seductions sentences in September 2016.
The federal case is Jane Doe, as mother and natural guardian of Jane Doe 2 v. Tippecanoe School Corporation, John Beeker and Fred Roop, 4:15-cv-00056.