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Handley officials named in suit

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Adrian Ellis

Former student says they didn't protect her from teacher's sexual harassment

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com

HARRISONBURG -- A former Handley High School student is suing her principals in U.S. District Court for not doing enough to protect her from a teacher's sexual harassment.

Lennis Waldruff filed the suit Tuesday afternoon against Principal V. Douglas Joyner, Assistant Principal Ellen Wheeler, the Winchester School Board and former teacher Adrian A. Ellis, according to online court records.

Ellis, 32, has served more than a year in jail for taking indecent liberties with a student and providing her with alcohol, as well as violating his probation. The art and photography teacher was arrested in March 2010 for having sex with a student the previous school year. He taught at Handley High School from 2008 to March 2010.

He went on to violate his probation by visiting women he met online without the consent of his probation officer, leaving a note on a 19-year-old neighbor woman's car, having pictures of his student victim, failing to register an online name with the Virginia Sex Offender Registry and having pornography at his home, among other violations.

Ellis was indicted last winter on the charge of failing to register as a sex offender, and was ordered to serve three months in jail on that charge.

Waldruff's suit says Joyner had gotten complaints about Ellis having sex and behaving inappropriately with at least one student before Feb. 26, 2010. It says he spoke with Ellis, but didn't do anything more.

Ellis' wife found out he was having sex with a student and informed school officials, who didn't report it to the schools' compliance officer, the suit says. Joyner was required by law to immediately report the complaint to Winchester Department of Social Services, it says.

The lawsuit states that Winchester police officer David Perlick, who was Handley's school resource officer, said after a complaint was made to Wheeler, Joyner and the Police Department, that school officials had gotten complaints before from parents.

The suit alleges Joyner sent Ellis home with the admonition to "get his ducks in a row, or (or language similar thereto)," which gave him time to remove things from his apartment before it could be searched by police. These included pictures of naked girls thought to be minors, pornography and firearms, which may have included four sniper rifles, the suit says.

Waldruff and other girls in her class were passed sexually explicit notes from Ellis in art class, it says.

"These notes contained unwelcome sexual flirtations and graphic propositions for various sexual acts with him and multiple partners," the complaint says. "These notes also contained graphic and vulgar descriptions of the students' body parts and sexual leering."

Ellis also sent Waldruff and other girls sexually explicit text messages and texts coaxing them to come to school early to be with him, it says. Besides the student Ellis had sex with at school the previous school year, there were rumors of up to three more students having inappropriate contact with him, according to the lawsuit.

For a month before his arrest, Ellis had lunch with Waldruff and other girls in the hallway after Wheeler and another vice principal told him it was inappropriate to eat lunch with them in his classroom, the suit claims.

Although Waldruff wasn't the student having sex with Ellis at school, many people thought she was, and the school didn't do anything to dispel this notion, it says. Other students called her "whore" and "slut," it says.

Wheeler was told about the harassment Waldruff was getting, but told her to "get over it," and "I am not the police," according to the suit.

Waldruff and three other girls came back to Handley High School around March 5, 2010, and were told by Wheeler that she didn't expect them to return then, according to the suit. It says she rushed three of the girls out of the school, and had the four girls taken out of regular classes and gave them take-home assignments for several days.
Joyner encouraged the girls to withdraw from Handley, and gave them grades for classes they didn't finish, and they weren't allowed to collect anything from their lockers or say good-bye to students and teachers, according to the lawsuit.

Waldruff is seeking unspecified damages.

Winchester Public Schools Superintendent Ricky Leonard said late Tuesday that he could not talk about specifics because he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit.

"I would like to mention that Winchester Public Schools has a very comprehensive policy against harassment and established procedures for investigating complaints," Leonard said. "It saddens me, and it's very unfortunate that the actions of one former teacher would surface yet again when the vast majority of our teachers are excellent, competent and dedicated professionals."

Joyner wasn't at the school on Tuesday afternoon, according to a school secretary, and Wheeler could not be reached for comment.

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