Holland Public Schools, local church sued over sex abuse allegations
By Carolyn Muyskens
March 01, 2020
Victims of a former youth group leader and middle school lunchroom worker are suing Holland Public Schools, saying a principal and vice principal didn’t follow up on a student’s complaint that the man was molesting her friends.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court, claims a middle school student told school leadership in 2006 about Jonathan Meyer’s alleged abuse, and the school didn’t investigate beyond asking Meyer if the allegations were true. Meyer denied them.
According to the lawsuit, Meyer continued to abuse adolescent and teenage boys for years before his arrest in 2012, when he was charged with three counts of criminal sexual conduct.
Meyer took a plea deal that same year, pleading guilty to one count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, for which he was sentenced to six to 20 years in prison. Meyer, now 40, has since been released and is living in Zeeland, according to the state’s sex offender registry.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five victims, now adult men, who say Meyer sexually assaulted and abused them when they were adolescents and teenagers. Several of the victims suing now also testified against Meyer during the criminal proceedings against him.
Much of the abuse happened, the victims say, during youth group and church events, such as a Young Life overnight camp. Young Life is a Christian youth ministry organization based in Colorado with local clubs across many states.
Meyer was able to gain the trust of the boys and their parents due to his position as a Young Life leader, a youth group leader for Christ Memorial Reformed Church and a lunchroom supervisor at Holland West Middle School, the lawsuit says.
Meyer, Christ Memorial and Young Life are all named as defendants in the lawsuit.
In the fall of 2006, the lawsuit claims, a friend of some of the victims approached Kathryn Curry and Kevin Derr, then the principal and vice principal, respectively, of Holland West Middle. The seventh grade student reported what she had heard about Meyer’s abuse.
School administrators “failed to reasonably investigate” the report, the complaint alleges.
“Curry and Derr’s individual and collective failures to report Meyer in 2006 further endangered the Plaintiffs and other child victims who continued to be sexually assaulted, abused, and molested for years following the report,” attorney Jeffrey Buckman wrote in the complaint.
A spokesperson for Holland Public Schools said the district was aware of the lawsuit and issued the following statement to The Sentinel:
“At this time, per district policy, there will be no response from the district pending litigation of the case. It is also district policy not to comment on matters that could intrude upon the privacy of individuals and families in the community.
“Our hearts continue to go out to individuals and families as they cope with the life-long impacts brought on by the traumatic crimes committed by Meyer several years ago.”
All five victims that sued were students at Holland Public Schools. The lawsuit also says Meyer abused other children who were enrolled at Holland Christian Schools.
The assaults took place primarily at youth group events, the lawsuit says, including during a youth group “lock-in” on church property and on various trips, including a supposed youth group field trip to a Hooters restaurant in Grand Rapids. One victim also said Meyer was hired to babysit him and assaulted him at home.
Victims said Meyer told them it was normal to masturbate together and would offer the boys alcohol and cigarettes before or after the assaults.
The former students are suing for compensatory and punitive damages and other relief, “including, but not limited to implementation of institutional reform and measures of accountability to ensure the safety and protection of students, Young Life members, youth group members, minors and other individuals as appears to be reasonable and just.”