Updated: October 28, 2019 06:43 PM
When Miranda Waade was 14 years old, she reported to her high school principal that she'd been sexually harassed and assaulted by two classmates.
Instead of launching an investigation, the principal at West Lutheran High School in Plymouth accused Waade of making the story up, ignored key evidence that supported her claims, and refused to re-enroll the teenager in school the following year, according to internal school documents and police reports obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES.
Records obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES include a text message from one of the male students who harassed Waade, admitting he tried to touch her in a sexual way, a recording of a police interview with the principal and state records that detail how the school failed to follow its policies.
"No one was believing me," Waade said. "I just didn't want to talk to anyone about it because I thought it didn't matter." The teen and her family later turned to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
After a two-year-long investigation, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights found Waade's story credible and sued West Lutheran in July for discrimination and retaliation. The case, which is playing out in Hennepin County District Court, is significant because the state rarely takes this action, according to an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment cases.
As Waade watches the case progress, she can't help but think back to how the then-principal, Adam Wiechmann, first reacted when she informed him of what happened to her during her freshman year in 2014. She said she felt as if she was being discounted and blamed.
"I just feel like they could have done so much more," Waade said. "They had so many chances to, but I don't think they wanted to."
Principal's letter: Allegations were 'made up'
Waade, now 19, had only been at West Lutheran for a couple months in 2014 when she made multiple complaints about two classmates who she said sexually harassed and assaulted her.
"He touched my leg and he was trying to lift up my skirt," she said, recounting the first incident. "I'd asked him to stop and he wouldn't stop."
In a separate instance, Waade said another boy moved his hand up her thigh, slipping it underneath her skirt during class.
Soon after, Waade and her father, Rob, reported the misconduct to Wiechmann. The family said it felt as though the principal dismissed the teen's story.
"There wasn't open ears to hear it," said Rob Waade.
According to the Department of Human Rights investigation, the school "refused to follow its own policy and investigate the allegations" of sexual assault and harassment.
Wiechmann instead reprimanded Waade for gossiping and accused her of fabricating the story to avoid being punished.
In a letter sent home with Waade the day after she reported the assaults, Wiechmann wrote, "Frankly, I believe that many of the things that Miranda has accused some boys of doing here at school is made up or drastically exaggerated."
"I didn't get why they didn't believe me," Waade said.
The family confronted Wiechmann with a text message, in which one of the boys admitted to trying to touch Waade. Wiechman discussed the text with a Plymouth Police Department detective who had opened a criminal investigation into the assaults and harassment.
In a recording of that interview, Wiechmann is heard saying, "It doesn't prove anything, I think."
According to a letter from the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to the Waade family, one male student was ordered to counseling and Anger Replacement Therapy while the other was referred to a sexual boundaries class.
Wiechmann left the school in 2018 and now teaches at Arizona Lutheran Academy in Phoenix. He did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Investigation leads to lawsuit
Internal records obtained by 5 INVESTIGATES show that after the Department of Human Rights found probable cause that Waade had been discriminated against, it tried to reach a settlement with West Lutheran.
When the parties were unable to reach an agreement, DHR asked the Minnesota Attorney General to step in and file a lawsuit, which is currently pending in civil court.
"This is a very big deal," said Tina Syring, an attorney who specializes in sexual harassment cases. "Not many are sent to the Attorney General's office for litigation. It's a very small percentage."
Syring, who is not involved in the case, reviewed the records and believes Wiechmann's letter is evidence of retaliation against the teen.
"When I read that letter, it was one of a number of blame issues on the person who came forward with the complaint which I don't think was appropriate," she said.
Not welcome back
Waade squints at the glossy pages of West Lutheran's yearbook from freshman year, scanning over candid photographs of her class. She's surprised to find a picture of herself, standing with two of her classmates during biology.
"I actually didn't know if I had any pictures in here because I never really looked through this yearbook," she said.
Waade did not return to West Lutheran the following year. In its investigation, DHR found the school retailed against the teen after it rejected her registration for the following year.
In August 2015, the Waades received a letter from then-principal Wiechmann that explained a decision had been made that "it would be best for both Miranda and for our student body for Miranda to attend school elsewhere next year" and that the teen would not be allowed to re-enroll.
"I always thought high school was the best years of your life, but that year was definitely the worst year of my life," Waade said.
In the lawsuit, DHR is asking that West Lutheran require its employees undergo training on sexual harassment and differential treatment, submit reports to DHR regarding student discipline and pay a civil penalty.
A trial is scheduled for the summer of 2020.
Kirsten Swanson can be reached by phone at 651-642-4406 or by email here.
Updated: October 28, 2019 06:43 PM
Published: October 28, 2019 12:00 AM
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