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Woburn school assault victim’s parents assail district’s public response to outside review

Woburn school officials have not fully informed the community about how the district failed to prevent the traumatic attack on 14-year-old Johnathan Coucelos and what measures it has taken to correct any errors.Globe staff illustration/Pat Greenhouse photo

The beating of a 14-year-old boy by a mob of football teammates last September in a locker room at Woburn Memorial High School raised serious questions about the district’s policies and procedures to safeguard its students.

Yet more than 10 months and multiple investigations later, Woburn school officials have not fully informed the community about how the district failed to prevent the traumatic attack on 14-year-old Johnathan Coucelos and what measures it has taken to correct any errors.

In recent weeks, Woburn officials refused the Globe’s request for a copy of a report on a federally mandated Title IX investigation into the assault, then produced an extremely redacted copy of an independent investigative report by former state secretary of public safety Daniel Bennett that blacked out all but a small portion of the inquiry’s finding of facts, conclusions, and recommendations.

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On Monday, the Globe reminded Woburn Schools Superintendent Matthew Crowley of his public statement in February: “We pledge to be forthcoming regarding the results of those investigations and pledge to enact their findings and recommendations.”

Crowley did not respond to the Globe’s request to be more forthcoming. Instead, he posted a letter online Tuesday to the Woburn school community, stating that Bennett’s investigation concluded that “the District generally had proper policies and procedures in place and timely responded to the incident by developing appropriate safety plans for the student consistent with national standards.”

Crowley also stated, “Attorney Bennett’s report included recommendations concerning potential additional procedures and training requirements for the supervision of athletic locker rooms, additional training on conducting investigations, and safeguards for students while such investigations are pending.”

He provided no further details, and said, “We have learned much from this report and are reviewing the recommendations for potential implementation in the future.”

“The District is generally satisfied with the recommendations of the outside investigations,” Crowley said.

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Dissatisfied were the parents of Coucelos, who asserted that Woburn officials have tried from the start to conceal details of the case. Kevin Coucelos, Jonathan’s father, said he and the rest of the Woburn community have not seen Bennett’s report, even in redacted form.

“How does anyone know if Crowley’s telling the truth if we can’t read the report?” he said.

Crowley’s letter to the community said, “There is much I cannot share due to the privacy rights of the individuals involved as well as applicable legal privileges.”

He did not explain how recommendations for prospective policies and procedures might violate individual privacy rights. Or why the finding of facts and conclusions could not be more clearly presented to the public while protecting the identities of individuals.

The Globe has not identified any student involved in the incident other than Coucelos, who with his parents gave his consent.

The school district’s attorney, Michael Joyce, in a six-page letter to the Globe, cited an array of privacy concerns to explain the redactions in Bennett’s report. The district previously stated that reports of Title IX investigations are not generally public record. The Globe independently obtained a copy of the Title IX report.

“Superintendent Crowley’s letter to the community is designed to protect himself and the Woburn Public Schools,” said Peter Hahn, Johnathan Coucelos’ attorney. “School administrators, staff, and coaches are responsible for allowing the attacks on Johnathan to occur, and the Woburn Public Schools then failed to hold students and adults appropriately accountable. Crowley can claim a commitment to student safety and accountability, but Johnathan’s experience shows otherwise.”

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Coucelos and his parents said they came forward to the Globe in December out of frustration over the school district’s handling of the case. Until then, the district had not informed the public what happened in the locker room when a throng of football players, allegedly unsupervised, cornered and attacked Coucelos, many with water bottles, some with fists. One player allegedly groped Coucelos’ genitals while yanking down his pants, while another ripped his Apple Watch off his arm.

Seven Woburn students were charged in Lowell Juvenile Court with assault and battery. Five football players were charged for their alleged roles in the locker room incident, including one who faces an additional count of indecent assault and battery for the alleged groping. One former football player was charged with accosting Coucelos later in his Spanish class, and another student was charged with punching him in a bathroom.

Several of the juvenile cases have been resolved, with students ordered to perform community service. The case against the player who also faces the additional charge of indecent assault and battery is still pending.

Coucelos, fearing for his safety, has since transferred to Cambridge Matignon School. A Woburn school psychologist’s evaluation states he suffers from “post traumatic stress disorder, causing him significant symptoms of anxiety and depression” due to the violence he endured.

Coucelos’ parents have filed notice that they intend to sue the district and city for $750,000.

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Bob Hohler can be reached at robert.hohler@globe.com.