IOWA — Memories captured inside a photo album remind Melissa and Terry Webb of how lucky they are to have three sons at the center of their universe.
“We’ve always been together,” Melissa said with a smile.
They reflect on page after page of good times, which makes memories they wish didn’t happen hard to forget.
“When they stopped being happy for a time being, that was hard,” Melissa said.
One time they’ll always struggle to get past began with a phone call Melissa received on the morning of April 22nd, 2022.
“I got a call from a parent I never knew but she was very concerned about something her son had shared with her. Turns out our son had shared his story with a select few people on a band trip they took during spring break down to Florida,” Melissa said.
According to the mother, the Webbs’ son, who was a freshman in high school, shared details of an assault that occurred inside the Webb home three months earlier.
“Definitely a shock,” Terry said. “You don’t expect to hear that from your son and his friends did that to him. Those were close friends, teammates.”
During a gathering of friends in late January, two upperclassmen and teammates on the Roland-Story wrestling team assaulted Webb’s son in a bedroom. The boy’s clothes were stripped away and he was sodomized with a pencil. Unaware, their oldest son and others watched football in a separate room. The Webbs were not home when the assault took place.
“They told him, ‘No, no, we’re just joking, we’re just playing around. It’s no big deal,’” Melissa said referring to what the two boys said to her son after the assault.
The mother who called Melissa reported the assault to the Department of Human Services, while Melissa used the school district’s P3 reporting system; an anonymous tip line linked to the Story County Sheriff’s Office. As the investigation began, a low point set in.
“There was suicidal talk so we called in the Mobile Crisis Unit. It was extremely heartbreaking and hard trying to navigate all of that,” Melissa said.
The next hurdle the Webbs faced was trying to figure out what to do about school.
“I had reached out immediately to the school to say, ‘hey, we need to sit down and talk about a plan for education’ because as we realized how serious of a crime this was and there was going to be a criminal investigation, we just didn’t know how to put our children back into a school with the very people who had hurt them,” Melissa said.
With roughly four weeks left in the school year, the family met with the high school principal, guidance counselor, a sheriff’s deputy, and district superintendent, Matt Patton, to discuss a safe way to finish the year.
“Patton’s number one recommendation was Edgenuity,” Melissa said.
Edgenuity is an online education system the Webbs say was separate from the virtual program Roland-Story used for all students during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Patton kept stressing that Governor Reynolds would have his job if he required his teachers to give us online learning,” Melissa said.
The Webbs followed Patton’s recommendation and finished the year online. In July the family left Story City and moved to a new community for a fresh start. As they prepared to enroll their boys into a new school district, they say credits were missing on their transcripts.
“Just struggled communicating with the school about, can we get those credits? Our boys deserve those credits and (we were) getting nowhere with that communication,” Terry said.
Melissa was shocked.
“It’s not okay to take credits away from a victim who could not go back to school and be sitting next to two perpetrators,” Melissa said.
They decided to go a step further for help.
“So, we decided, let’s see if we can get a lawyer who would help us with that,” Terry said.
Attorney Alison Kanne with Wandro & Associates agreed to represent the Webb family.
“It is absolutely outrageous to see a case where the victim is the one getting punished,” Kanne said.
After reviewing Webbs’ case, Kanne concluded the missing academic credits were part of a bigger problem.
“I don’t think the school would have responded the same way if it had been a female forcibly penetrated by a forcible object,” Kanne added.
In the weeks that followed, parents filled Roland-Story school board meetings to speak publicly about bullying and answers about how the assault involving Webbs’ son was handled.
The public discussions and frustration eventually led to board member Jasmine Goeders abrupt resignation on December 11, 2022.
When you’re the only person on the team voicing concerns over things that need to be changed, you quickly find out your position on that board is futile,” Goeders told WHO13 during an interview the day after she resigned.
On December 20th, the Webbs filed a formal complaint with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission alleging sexual discrimination and retaliation by Roland-Story school officials. Six months later, on June 30th, the commission issued a 60-day right to sue letter. The Webbs proceeded forward and filed a civil lawsuit against the school district on September 7th, 2022
“I’m here because of, yes, our story, but, all of the stories that happened prior to us or even right behind us that are not being addressed and we continue to see this same kind of treatment from a superintendent and school board president and it has to stop,” Melissa said.
Six counts are alleged in the lawsuit including: sexual discrimination, retaliation, negligence, negligent training and supervision of employees, and two counts of loss of consortium each for Melissa and Terry.
“It doesn’t seem like the school district took it seriously until the public became aware. I think my hope and the family’s hope is to see some widespread change,” Kanne said.
As the Webbs work to resolve a memory they’d like to forget, they find peace in their new community, focused on making new memories with their boys.
“We have a good crew of people where we live now,” Terry said.
Requests for comment from the school officials named in the lawsuit and the attorney representing the school district were not returned.
Court filings show the district denies the allegations raised in the lawsuit.
Their request for a jury trial was granted by a Story County judge. A conference meeting to discuss a trial date is set for December 5.