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School district responds to lawsuit claiming sexual assaults went unchecked

Misty Cox, left, listens to attorney Robert B. Sykes talks during a press conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. Cox's 14-year-old son, who says he was sexually assaulted by three football players from Gunnison Valley High School, has fi
FILE - Misty Cox, left, listens to attorney Robert B. Sykes talks during a press conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. Cox's 14-year-old son, who says he was sexually assaulted by three football players from Gunnison Valley High School, has filed a civil lawsuit in federal court.
Qiling Wang, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The superintendent of the South Sanpete School District said Friday he is "sorry" that several students at Gunnison Valley High School were allegedly sexually abused and that the school is cooperating with the investigation.

On Thursday, a 14-year-old boy who says he was sexually assaulted by three football players from the high school filed a civil lawsuit in federal court alleging the school district, the superintendent, the Gunnison Valley High principal and vice principal, and the school's athletic director have not done enough to stop ongoing abuse at the high school over the years, dismissing it as high school hazing and with a "boys being boys" attitude. The boy's mother called the school a "breeding ground for sexual predators" because the behavior has allowed to go unchecked for so long.

The Sanpete County Attorney's Office, as of Friday, had identified 12 to 15 students who were allegedly assaulted or abused by a 16-year-old boy at the high school. That 16-year-old, whom the Deseret News has opted not to name at this time, was charged Sept. 28 in 6th District Juvenile Court with six counts of object rape, a first-degree felony, and five counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.

The two other teens, ages 14 and 15, are charged with one count each of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.

On Friday, South Sanpete Superintendent Kent Larsen said while he couldn't respond directly to the allegations in the lawsuit based on the advice of the district's attorneys, he assured parents that efforts are being made to make sure the high school is safe.

"We just want people to know that it is a good school and generates a lot of good things with a good administration. We're cooperating with all the agencies. These are serious allegations and we take them very seriously. And we want the best for our kids and the best for the parents as well," he said.

Larsen admitted he was both surprised and disappointed the lawsuit was filed. But he said the district would move forward.

"It is what it is, so we'll just have to deal with it," he said. "We're sorry that it happened."