FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A former Springdale school student has filed a lawsuit alleging that she was sexually harassed and assaulted while at school and that her principal and the district did nothing about it.
Alissa Cawood sued the district, principal Joseph Rollins and assistant principal Mark Oesterle in the Western District of Arkansas Federal Court on November 1. The suit specifically states that it arises from “sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the deprivation of bodily integrity suffered by a young student at the hands of the Defendants.”
When asked for comment, Springdale schools Director of Communication Trent Jones said that the district does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit notes that all actions took place when the plaintiff was a student at the School of Innovation (SOI) or Har-Ber High School. It states that Oesterle engaged in “grooming behavior” toward Cawood, culminating in “a pattern of sexual harassment, molestations, sexual assaults, and violations of bodily integrity.”
The filing alleges that Oesterle first “took an interest” in her when she was 13 years old and in eighth grade. It says that he asked for her phone number and “began to message her privately via text and over social media.”
The suit states that Oesterle divulged explicit information about his extramarital affairs to the plaintiff and that his inappropriate interest in her was “blatant and obvious to the Springdale School District, its officials, Principal Rollins, SOI teachers and staff, and to other students.” He also began picking her up from school, taking her off campus for lunch, and bringing her home, though permission was not given to do so by her legal guardians.
The suit states that the principal and the district were aware of this behavior and did nothing to stop it, nor did they provide any warning to her grandparents, who were her legal guardians. The suit explains that Oesterle’s communications took on “a more sexual nature” in the summer between Cawood’s eighth and ninth grade school years.
His behavior allegedly escalated to unwanted sexual contact that became more aggressive, with the suit explaining that he touched her over a dozen times on SOI campus. The suit states that the principal and the district were aware of this but continued to fail to act.
In choosing not to restrict Oesterle’s behavior or punish him, the Springdale School District and its officials, including Principal Rollins, ratified his behavior. This inaction by the district and its officials amounted to policy that gave Oesterle the confidence that he could continue to act with impunity and could continue to sexually harass and molest Alissa.”Alisa Cawood lawsuit, filed November 1
Her grandparents eventually discovered the inappropriate behavior and brought it to the school’s attention. Principal Rollins reportedly said that Oesterle’s behavior was “not right” and that he would look into the situation. He added that Oesterle would be transferring school districts.
The suit alleges that Rollins took no action during the remainder of Oesterle’s employment at SOI and that he “ultimately disregarded any concerns for Alissa’s safety.” Oesterle subsequently began to stalk Cawood, both on social media accounts and in person at her after-school job. The suit alleges that he made unprompted visits to speak with her, sometimes bringing his four young children along to meet or spend time with her.
The plaintiff began to avoid posting photos of herself on social media, and would only post photos of a location after she had left. The suit states that multiple school employees reported incidents to Rollins expressing concern about Oesterle’s conduct, but no steps were taken to protect her. It adds that she was one of “several young victims” targeted by him during his time with the Springdale School District.
Oesterle was found guilty in a harassment trial in 2020 and sentenced to one year in jail. In 2021, he entered a guilty plea to a sexual assault charge for touching multiple minor girls. In that case, he was sentenced to six years probation.
He was also ordered to have no contact with the victims and to register as a sex offender. In March, Oesterle was arrested for knowingly entering a public school campus—an act prohibited due to his sex offender status.
The November 1 filing alleges that Oesterle’s grooming of Cawood continued even after he transferred to another school district. After seeing a photo of the plaintiff and Oesterle in a vehicle together, Rollins called her in for a meeting with no legal guardians, counselors or female teachers present, and he asked her to sign a statement indicating that “nothing was going on,” and he suggested that she write that Oesterle was “a positive role model, acting as a father figure to her, and that their relationship was platonic.”
Cawood says she was not allowed to return to class until signing a statement “to Rollins’ satisfaction.”
Oesterle’s “abuse of Alissa continued to escalate” after that, including offers of payment for sex. Her refusals only “seemed to fuel his perverse desires,” according to the suit. His requests became more graphic in nature despite her continued refusals. He also continued to show up at her home.
One message he sent her indicated that he had looked through her bedroom window to see what she was wearing. The lawsuit states that he “threatened to Kill Alissa and her family if she ever reported him.”
He added that he had “people in the Springdale school system who would back him up,” and that “reporting would be futile.” The suit alleges that the district’s inactivity lent credence to Oesterle’s threats.
Oesterle was charged for his behavior after groping her in front of patrons at her job. The suit notes that Cawood’s academic performance suffered due to the ordeal and she found herself “unable to face male instructors.”
The suit notes her attendance fell off, her mental health deteriorated, and she “suffered from persistent anxiety.” She was eventually diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a “direct result of Oesterle’s repeated sexual harassment and abuse.”
Cawood seeks damages for multiple reasons, including emotional suffering, mental anguish, humiliation and loss of self-worth, medical expenses, loss of educational benefits and loss of employment opportunities. The filing requests a jury trial.