KY school officials knew of relationship between student, coach but did nothing, lawsuit claims

Several Rowan County School District leaders and personnel knew of the sexual relationship between a student and coach but failed investigate or stop the coach’s behavior, a new lawsuit alleges.

Jane Doe filed the lawsuit in Rowan Circuit Court Tuesday against the Rowan County Board of Education, John Mann, principal of Rowan County High School, and John Maxey, superintendent of Rowan County Schools. Maxey has announced he will retire at the end of the year.

Also named is Andrew Zaheri, the former coach and teacher, who was indicted in early May on more than 23 felony counts for his sexual relationship with the student. Those charges include multiple counts of rape, sodomy and promoting a sexual performance of a minor.

The Lexington Herald-Leader does not identify victims of sexual abuse.

Zaheri, a basketball coach who was originally arrested in February, will appear in court on June 2, according to court records.

The lawsuit alleges Mann and Maxey had received repeated reports about Zaheri’s questionable behavior toward Jane Doe but failed to fully investigate those reports or notify Jane Doe’s parents. A high school guidance counselor eventually notified authorities, which led to Zaheri’s arrest.

“Principal Mann and Superintendent Maxey must be held accountable for their failures to act when presented with repeated reports from concerned citizens regarding the nature of the relationship between Zaheri and a female student 21 years younger than him. They did no investigation. They withheld these incredibly alarming reports from her parents. They did not interview the victim,” according to a statement from Jane Doe’s attorneys.

Jane Doe is being represented by Jonathan Hollan and Sam Aguiar in Louisville and Matthew Miner and Jonathan Fannin of Minner Vines Moncus Injury Lawyers in Morehead.

The lawsuit seeks monetary damages and also punitive damages.

“We are committed to holding accountable not only the teachers and coaches that prey on young students and players, but also those administrators who are responsible for protecting our children and instead turn a blind eye when confronted with this abuse,” the lawyers said in a statement.

The school district does not comment on pending litigation, Maxey said in an email.

A September 2022 Lexington Herald-Leader investigation showed in the 194 cases of teachers who voluntarily surrendered or had their license revoked or suspended from 2016 to 2021, 61% lost their license due to sexual misconduct. The overwhelmingly majority of those cases involved male teachers and teenage girls.

A bill that would require tougher screening requirements for teachers and more training on appropriate relationships between students and teachers failed to pass the General Assembly earlier this year. The bill received unanimous support in the House and a Senate Education Committee but failed to be called for a vote in the full Senate.

Lawsuit alleges prior history involving students

Zaheri, the lawsuit alleges, had a prior history of targeting female students at Rowan County High School.

Zaheri served as an assistant basketball coach for Rowan County High School from 2007 to 2011.

During that time period he allegedly was in a relationship with a student. “Shortly after she graduated and while still a teenager, she became pregnant with Zaheri’s child,” the lawsuit alleges.

Yet, no one at the school district questioned Zaheri to determine when the relationship with the other female student began, the lawsuit alleges.

Zaheri resigned from Rowan County in 2011, the lawsuit says. He then took a position with Danville schools where he stayed until 2013. He returned to Rowan County as an assistant coach on the boy’s basketball team in 2013. Mann, the principal, was also a coach on the team, the lawsuit said.

Zaheri became a full-time teacher in 2020. In addition to coaching boys basketball he was also an assistant girl’s soccer coach, the lawsuit said.

Grooming behavior alleged

Zaheri began noticing Jane Doe in 2019 when she was 14 and a freshman. Doe played on the soccer team when Zaheri was a soccer coach. He allegedly asked her personal questions about whom she was dating and had a key to her room at an out-of-town tournament. He would repeatedly volunteer to give her leg massages when her legs started to cramp. Later he told her he became sexually aroused while performing the massage.

The lawsuit alleges Zaheri used campus software to look up her home address and drove by her home on Christmas morning in 2019. Zaheri later told the student about the Christmas morning trip.

He later got the teen’s cell phone number under the guise of a school fundraiser, the lawsuit alleges. He would repeatedly text her and eventually convinced her to become his teaching assistant. He also bought her presents and clothes, the lawsuit alleges.

Zaheri then sexually assaulted Jane Doe on and off school property, the lawsuit alleges.

“On several occasions, Zaheri requested for colleagues and supervisors to cover his classroom so that he could sexually abuse Jane Doe during school hours,” the lawsuit said.

Zaheri also sent videos and photos to Jane Doe of himself masturbating, court documents said.

Repeated questions about Zaheri

Zaheri’s relationship with Jane Doe did not go unnoticed by students or members of the community, according to the lawsuit.

In September 2022, multiple people reported to Robert Ginter, the director of student services, their concerns about the nature of the relationship between the coach and the teen. The two had been seen at Wal-Mart together on various occasions and after school hours.

The lawsuit said Ginter forwarded the concerns to Mann, the principal. Mann spoke to Zaheri and accepted Zaheri’s explanation that it was a coincidence the two were at Wal-Mart at the same time and brushed off other concerns about the amount of time he was spending with Jane Doe.

Mann did not contact Jane Doe or her parents. Mann forwarded the concerns to Maxey, the superintendent.

According to the lawsuit, it appears no further action or follow-up was done.

In November 2022, Zaheri and Jane Doe were spotted at Wal-Mart again. Zaheri denied he was there. Mann forwarded the complaint to Maxey but no further investigation was conducted, according to the documents

Then again in November 2022, Jane Doe was sighted wearing Zaheri’s clothes in public. The lawsuit alleges multiple people reported the sighting and concerns about the relationship between the female student and Zaheri to school administrators.

It wasn’t until late December 2022 that Mann documented the phone calls from community members who had called about the student wearing Zaheri’s clothes. Jane Doe was not interviewed. Zaheri denied giving the teen his clothes, according to the lawsuit.

Breaking off

In January, the teen told Zaheri she did not want to be in a relationship with him and to please stop contacting her.

On Feb. 13, Mann and Maxey were again contacted about Zaheri’s relationship with the student, the lawsuit states.

On Feb. 14, a Rowan County High School school counselor, who also received the report, forwarded the allegations to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, which resulted in an investigation that eventually resulted in Zaheri’s arrest.

Zaheri was eventually fired from his position.