A call came into the newsroom about a week after a Bettendorf boy was assaulted on a school bus by a baseball teammate.
It seemed unbelievable at first. If the assault that was described really happened, we surely would have heard from many more people. Someone at the school district or the police department surely could at least confirm it happened.
But that was part of the problem: The deeply disturbing attack was kept quiet, due largely to the fact the perpetrator and victim both were juveniles. Even members of the Bettendorf School Board were kept in the dark.
The light is on now.
An unsettling account
Former Bettendorf teacher and coach Brandon Nau told the story of what happened to his son on a school bus that was headed back from a baseball tournament in Burlington, Iowa, on June 1, 2019. The ordeal additionally was captured on the bus's surveillance camera.
Here is what Nau and related court records indicate happened: A 15-year-old boy was seated in the back of the bus, watching pornography on a cellphone. The teenager pulled down his shorts, exposing himself as he masturbated.
He then rose from his seat, sought out Nau's 16-year-old son, and slapped the teen's face with his hand, smearing semen into the other boy's face and mouth.
The young man then made remarks about his victim's deceased infant brother.
“The first thing he tried to do was say my son called him the N-word," Nau said. "They (school officials) told him he was lying. There’s video from the bus, and that didn’t happen.
“They even said: ‘You use that excuse every time you get in trouble.’”
Even so, when Nau filed for an order of protection for his son, the other teen's attorney argued the assault on the bus was "a one-time incident predicated by (Nau's son's) continued verbal abuse and bullying."
If a racial slur and/or bullying had motivated the attack, no such evidence was presented. If there is evidence somewhere, however, it would neither dismiss nor excuse the conduct on the bus.
Bus video 'child pornography'
Nau has not seen the video from the bus, but his attorney has.
The Bettendorf Police Department declined to supply the attorney with a copy of the video, which was categorized as "child pornography," but the attorney was permitted to view it under police supervision.
"The reason that term (child pornography) came up ... because of what was recorded and because of the ages, it was the opinion of the (county and city) attorneys that it should not be disseminated," Bettendorf Police Chief Keith Kimball said Thursday. "If anyone would view that, it would be child pornography."
Despite the disturbing and clearly sexual nature of the offense, the teenager was not charged with a sex crime. He was charged with simple assault, a simple misdemeanor, and indecent exposure, a serious misdemeanor.
Nau said it wasn't enough. The teen who assaulted his son should have faced a sex-assault charge and should have been expelled, he said. Instead, he remains active in school sports and continues to ride the bus with other students, Nau said.
Some members of the Bettendorf School Board now want an explanation for how the situation — and the discipline — was handled.
In early February, School Board Director Michael Pyevich read a statement that bemoaned the lack of transparency by school officials and called into question the handling of disciplinary matters.
"I have heard of an absolutely hideous assault on a school bus by one BHS student on another," Pyevich said, adding the matter did not come before the board for expulsion consideration. "... I need to know if these things happened and, if they did, what happened to the perpetrator and how did the school handle the victim."
In the case of Nau and his son, the incident on the bus drove them to relocate to Muscatine.
Victim's dad cited for 'misconduct'
During the incident on the bus, Nau said, two other baseball players/students "egged on" the one who assaulted his son.
Just a week later, the same two teens again were in trouble. Nau, the head baseball coach at the time, knew disciplinary action was required, but he didn't feel comfortable handing it out to the pair that encouraged his son's assault. He went to the athletic director for advice, he said.
"A freshman player left his cellphone at the field, and the two boys admitted to hitting it with a bat," Nau said. "The phone was in pieces, and the mother was upset. She was a single mom, and that phone was necessary to make contact with her son."
One of the boys agreed to pay for a replacement phone, and the District placed a hold on his school account, Nau said. Meanwhile, he said, he was told by Bettendorf's athletic director to use money from a recent baseball fundraising event to replace the broken phone until restitution was made. He also used some of the money to replace a team member's baseball bat that was stolen.
"We took care of it," Nau said. "Everything was fine."
But school officials didn't see it that way.
On Aug. 15, 2019, Bettendorf School District Human Resources Director Heather Stocking sent Nau an "official reprimand." It accused him of "wrongful appropriation" of funds, which led to an official inquiry.
"The ensuing investigation confirmed the use of the money to buy these items for specific students and arrangements were immediately made to recoup the money that was spent on individual students," Stocking's letter states. "We do not believe this action was engaged in maliciously or for personal gain, and all money spent was accounted for."
Even so, the letter warned, if it happened again, Nau could be suspended or dismissed.
He refused to sign the letter of reprimand. The loss of one son, the assault against another, a divorce and, now, accusations about misconduct were too much. Nau got professional help.
A week after receiving the "official reprimand," he submitted to Stocking a letter from his psychiatrist's office, saying Nau was unable to report to work. He subsequently was declared in violation of his District contract.
He applied for a job with the Davenport Community School District, he said, and was made a verbal offer. After a final reference call to the human resources office at Bettendorf, however, Nau never again heard from Davenport.
The Bettendorf School District denied, through its attorney, that anyone in the District ever spoke to anyone from Davenport about Nau.
Three months after Nau left the District, the HR director, Stocking, submitted her letter of resignation. She wrote that time with her family was "suffering," and her last work day would be Jan. 10. By Jan. 23, according to her Facebook post, Stocking was working another human-resources job at a local private company.
The coach who was on the bus during the indecent exposure and assault was promoted to head coach, replacing Nau.
School board responds
Disgruntled Bettendorf parents crowded into the Feb. 18 school board meeting to air their grievances about school violence and their perception school officials aren't doing enough to apply appropriate discipline.
Three days after the meeting, the District announced Superintendent Mike Raso was taking a personal leave of absence — four months before his non-renewed contract was to expire.
Board President Adam Holland this week said the board does not intend to simply put the Nau matter behind them.
"I will say that we still are in the process of fact-finding," he said. "I would anticipate a third-party investigation, independent of the District."
Though it is premature to expect details, it would make sense the investigation also should include the administration's handling of Nau's "reprimand" and his job.
The former teacher and coach sought $174,000 on behalf of himself and his son, claiming, among other things, a hostile work environment and retaliation.
The District's attorney responded with a $5,000 settlement offer, which Nau did not accept. The District's letter acknowledged, "... no one would disagree he (Nau's son) was subject to a very inappropriate and embarrassing situation by another student."
The word "embarrassing" belongs nowhere in the bus-attack scenario.
Nau is among those who perceive a culture of covered-up violence in the District, though he is not currently pursuing a lawsuit. He is hopeful the school board and their investigation will first recognize, then manage the problems.
"That's all any of us want," he said. "I have a lot of faith in several of the board members.
"Honestly, I believe them when they say they did not know. I am hopeful they are doing everything that they can to recapture control."
And that sounds fair. The board has a much better chance of controlling a problem now that it's been dragged out of hiding.
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