Lawsuit alleges sexual abuse by Horry County special ed teacher

The parents of a Horry County Schools special education student at Socastee High School filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a teacher.
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 9:17 AM EDT|Updated: May. 16, 2023 at 4:48 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - The parents of a Horry County Schools special education student at Socastee High School filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse by a teacher.

The lawsuit filed Monday claims that although Horry County Schools investigated the allegations, the district was grossly negligent, reckless, and breached its duty.

In the lawsuit, the family, who did not wish to be named and are referred to as Father Doe, Mother Doe and John Doe, claims special education teacher Rachel Gray engaged in “inappropriate sexual relationships” with multiple male students at Socastee High School, “including those in her special education class.”

The claim continues that those “relationships” were known to other students in Socastee High School, therefore “upon information and belief, faculty and administrators knew or should have known about Ms. Gray’s inappropriate sexual relationships with male students.”

The lawsuit identifies John Doe as a “15- to 16-year-old student at Socastee High School ... diagnosed with multiple psychological disorders and disabilities and has been identified as a special needs student since elementary school” and a student of Gray’s.

According to the lawsuit, Gray groomed John Doe with preferential treatment including doing his homework, inflating his grades, letting him sleep in class, and sending personal messages to him via Snapchat.

“As a special needs student in Ms. Gray’s class, John Doe was particularly vulnerable to inappropriate and abusive emotional manipulation and sexual assault by Ms. Gray,” the lawsuit alleges.

The claim states during the Spring 2023 semester, Gray began “engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with John Doe [by] keeping John Doe in her class after other students were dismissed and sexually assaulting him, sending sexual messages and nude pictures to John Doe via Snapchat, and tracking his location on his phone.”

Mother and Father Doe claim around late March 2023, they found out about the alleged sexual misconduct involving their son, and on March 30, through their lawyer, alerted HCS general counsel and Socastee High School Principal Jeremy Rich.

According to the lawsuit, the family’s complaint included keeping John Doe’s and their family’s identity strictly confidential, “ensuring John Doe’s safety at school, and addressing the matter with as little interruption to his education and school life as possible going forward.”

The lawsuit claims Horry County Schools’ investigated by “interviewing other students about the sexual assault on John Doe” and during the course of those interviews, “an HCS employee confirmed to students the identity of John Doe and that he was sexually assaulted by Ms. Gray.”

The claim continues that due to John Doe’s identity being revealed by an employee of HCS, he was subjected to harassment and sexual harassment by students at Socastee High School.

“John Doe went to Principal Rich about this harassment and sexual harassment. No action was taken to address it. Mother and Father Doe, via undersigned counsel, brought the harassment and sexual harassment to the attention of HCS. No action was taken,” the lawsuit claims.

The family is suing for Horry County Schools’ alleged negligence/recklessness to protect the safety and best interests of John Doe, negligence in hiring/screening, negligent retention of Gray (regarding claims of previous sexual relationships with students), negligent supervision, Title IX, and an unspecified amount in damages.

Horry County Schools released a statement to WMBF News saying it is aware of a lawsuit filed on May 15, 2023, regarding allegations of a sexual nature between a former employee and a student.

“When school staff became aware of the allegations, Horry County Police was immediately notified, and school staff and the district office cooperated fully with law enforcement and their investigation. At this time no additional comments will be made due to pending litigation,” the statement reads.

HCS also said Gray began her employment with HCS in 2016 and resigned on April 18.

As for the criminal investigation into the allegations against Gray, the Horry County Police Department said on March 30, officers were called to Socastee High School for reports of an inappropriate sexual relationship between a student and teacher. It was revealed that the school received an email from a civil attorney alleging the inappropriate relationship.

But on March 31, a detective was advised by the accuser’s family attorney that the accuser and the family did not want to pursue criminal charges in the case.

HCPD has since closed the case.