UCO Coach Named in Settled Lawsuit
A University of Central Oklahoma assistant wrestling coach was named among a list of Perry School District officials in a recently settled lawsuit brought against the district that alleged its administrators were made aware of sexual misconduct but did not act on it.
The Vista learned of the lawsuit that was settled on Jan. 16 and found current UCO assistant wrestling coach Scott Chenoweth was superintendent during the time of the misconduct and was listed among the district officials the lawsuit alleged did nothing to intervene.
The lawsuit alleged the Perry School District received notice Arnold Cowen, an 86-year-old assistant teacher, was preying on school children, but that administrators had not acted on information provided to them by students and faculty.
“Despite having knowledge in December 2016 of a pattern of Cowen’s criminal misconduct from several victims, the school district did not immediately notify law enforcement,” the lawsuit read.
Last month the school district admitted liability for “unwanted and unlawful touching” of 14 girls by the former teacher’s assistant and agreed to pay the families $3.5 million to settle the case. Cowen pled guilty last February to molesting 10 girls at Upper Elementary School in 2016 and 2017 and is serving a 10-year prison sentence.
The lawsuit was filed by the parents of one of the students Cowen was found guilty of molesting and is one of two lawsuits that have emerged from the investigation.
“On or about January 18, 2017 Principal [Kendra] Miller told Mr. Scott Chenoweth (the school district’s superintendent) (“Chenoweth”) about the allegations of Cowen’s misconduct,” the lawsuit read. “Chenoweth chose to not report Cowen’s misconduct to law enforcement. Chenoweth chose not to report Cowen’s misconduct to the Department of Human Services.”
While the administrators were listed in the lawsuit, formal charges have not been brought against Chenoweth. The only defendants listed in the lawsuit were the Perry School District and Cowen.
The district accepted Chenoweth’s resignation agreement in May 2017, which included the stipulation that neither Chenoweth or the district would make statements regarding the situation.
Prior to serving as superintendent, Chenoweth was a USA Junior World Freestyle team coach in 2008 and 2010, was a National Coach of the Year finalist in 2010 and was inducted into the Oklahoma Chapter of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame for Lifetime Service to Wrestling in 2011. Following his resignation in 2017, he was hired as an assistant wrestling coach at UCO later that year.
When asked about the circumstances surrounding Chenoweth’s hiring and the university’s knowledge of his time as superintendent, the university’s director of sports media relations, Chris Brannick, said that the department does not comment on hiring decisions.
For the university’s hiring process, the university employs a pre-employment screening agency, ScreeningOne, to conduct its background checks. The standard check includes the National Criminal Search, National Sex Offender Search and Social Security Number Trace. If there is a hit, then further details will be pulled from a county criminal records search.
Adrienne Nobles, assistant vice president for University Communications at UCO, said that searches typically return within 5 minutes, but can last longer if there is a hit on one of the databases.
Aside from the databases, Nobles said that social media and internet searches are not included in the hiring process and that a resignation associated with no criminal charges would not appear as part of a background check.
“This kind of information would either have to be discovered in a reference check or volunteered by the applicant,” Nobles said. “The reasons for a resignation, when not connected to formal criminal charges, are part of a company’s employment records, which are kept confidential.”
The Vista has made multiple attempts to contact both Chenoweth and the Perry School District. Both parties have yet to reply to any inquiries.