Before she set foot in Taylor high school as a freshman, she had heard about Coach Lynn Stroud. The best-looking coach at the school, she was told. If you get into his biology class, one boy said, “all you have to do is wear a miniskirt and a smile and you’ll get an A.” In his Lee jeans and button-down shirts, Coach Stroud would wander the halls between classes, cracking jokes, slapping kids’ backs, casually throwing his arm around a student. “He came on as the kids’ best friend,” a teenage girl told a police officer in Taylor, a town of 11,000 people 35 miles northeast of Austin. “He tried to fix any problem you had, like grades in another class, or he’d talk to you about your boyfriend problems. He’d let us take his truck anytime we asked him, knowing we didn’t have our driver’s licenses.
The freshman, a pretty blonde and only fourteen years old, had to admit that she was excited when she saw on her schedule that Stroud would be her fourth-period biology teacher. He assigned her a seat in the first row. For a few weeks, everything was normal. Then she got back a test paper with a note. “You did real good,” it read. A few days later, he sent another note. “Hi, you look pretty today.” Finally, shielding a sheet of notebook paper with her arm so none of her classmates would see it, the girl wrote bak to Stroud. “How are you today? You look nice.”
It was the autumn of 1986, and what was about to take place—the seduction of a student by a teacher—would become the basis for a controversial precedent-setting lawsuit that has made its way from one federal court to another and, in October, up to the Supreme Court. The fate of Jane Doe, as the girl is called in court documents, has been debated by some of the country’s most distinguished jurists, all of whom have tried to determine just who is at fault for allowing a teenage student to fall under the spell of a forty-year-old man. In her lawsuit against the Taylor Independent School District, Jane Doe has blamed both the high school principal and the superintendent of schools for not trying to stop Stroud when it became obvious that the coach was making sexual advances. But according to one petition before the Supreme Court, her case is opening a flood of lawsuits by students against their teachers and administrators. School officials nationwide claim that her lawsuit will make them liable for millions of dollars in damages if they do not spend their days tracking down every sexual rumor about what a faculty member might be doing with a student. Taylor school officials insist they did everything they could to protect the girl and to investigate Stroud (who still lives near Taylor and would not comment for this article). “Every time we asked if they were having a relationship, they kept denying it,” says former Taylor High School principal Eddy Lankford. “So why am I now the one who is liable in court for not finding out about it? Why is it my fault that the girl didn’t want to tell anyone?”