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Southeast Valley teacher resigns

Over 20 students accuse him of sexual misconduct

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious Victim Haley Studyvin, 18, at left, braces and shares tears with Kate Wickwire, 20, center, as several students wait for the Southeast Valley school district’s board of education to accept the resignation of high school music teacher Brandon Louis. Louis resigned Friday from Southeast Valley High School in Gowrie amid allegations of inappropriate conduct from multiple students.

GOWRIE — “I am not an object,” Haley Studyvin told the school board Tuesday evening, as her voice broke and tears welled.

“I am not an object,” the 18-year-old reiterated, buttressing her voice with emphasis on each word as she recounted her first response to sexual, degrading text messages she said she received from Southeast Valley High School Choir Director Brandon Louis.

Last week, the 2020 Southeast Valley graduate started to collect similar stories from over 20 young women and girls who have attended or are still attending the school — all of whom found the collective strength to tell her “me too.”

The school district was made aware of the mounting allegations against Louis Friday, said Brian Johnson, superintendent of Southeast Valley Schools. Hours later, Louis submitted his resignation via email.

The school board voted unanimously to accept the resignation Tuesday evening, as about a dozen students attended in support of Studyvin and other survivors.

“I’ve been amazed, in the years that I’ve known you, to see you get knocked down and get back up again many times,” said Principal Kerry Ketcham to Studyvin. “You already know in your life that bruised is not defeated, and I hope you can share that lesson with other young ladies you come in contact with.”

The young artist, now a student at Iowa Central Community College, said that while she may have been the first to stand up, the realization that the story of abuse was not hers alone compelled her to speak up. No longer was it about her embarrassment, confusion or shame, she said — it was about giving a voice to the silenced, saving others from the same fate.

Studyvin said the sexually explicit text messages from Louis started one year ago after evening rehearsals and practices, when she was 17. Louis has served as choir director to many minors like her over the last seven years. Studyvin said victims have collected documentation of sexual misconduct dating back roughly six years.

Though she has not filed a police report, the school district said in a statement following the Tuesday meeting that it is fully cooperating with local law enforcement on an investigation. The first victim to come forward said she appreciated the school board’s swift action.

“Our first priority is to provide a safe and positive learning environment,” Johnson said — a common school district mission statement that many parents may take for granted until revelations like this.

The messages from Louis grew increasingly more explicit, harassing, persistent and manipulative as Studyvin’s senior year went by. But until now, she said could not lift the veil disguising the man who “had a place in our hearts and a seat at our dinner tables.”

Galvanizing the silence were the other parts of the relationship with a man who pushed students creatively and artistically during some of the most formative years of their lives. Studyvin was afraid to lose her captain position in the chamber choir, “because at the time, they were my entire life.”

Some of the artist’s best works are still in Louis’ apartment, she said.

“I made precious memories and relationships in (Mr. Louis’) room,” Studyvin said. “Relationships and memories now forever tainted and burned into my brain by words on a screen.”

After many months of pushing Studyvin to create, pursue, push and fight for herself as an artist, she listened, putting an end to his “terrifying” reign over her and others.

“It wasn’t just justice for me,” Studyvin said. “It was justice for all the other people who felt like they were silenced.”

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