Student alleges district failed to take action to mitigate… | TCTA
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Student alleges district failed to take action to mitigate abusive relationship

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Jane Roe and John Doe were dating during middle school and into their freshman year in high school. Doe isolated Roe from her friends and family, in part by keeping tabs on her location and discouraging her from participating in sports and other extracurricular activities. Roe's grades steadily declined during this time.

Roe's mother spoke to the assistant principal and other district administrators several times to express her concern regarding the relationship between Roe and Doe and his controlling behavior. She told the assistant principal that Doe was "controlling, emotionally abusive, and possibly physically abusive" and arranged a meeting for herself, Roe and district administrators.

At the meeting, she pleaded with the school to change Roe's schedule to keep her away from Doe. They refused. Six days later, Roe and Doe met in a hallway after school and walked into a stairwell where they frequently engaged in sexual activity. Doe violently sexually assaulted Roe, who was 14 at the time. Roe underwent two surgeries over the next few days as a result of the assault.

Campus police interviewed Roe at the hospital after she came out of surgery, while she was still under the effects of anesthesia. Roe stated that she does not remember what she told hospital staff or the police about the assault. Roe was pregnant at the time of the assault, and Roe's mother said she believed that Doe intentionally injured Roe to cause her to miscarry.

The next day, a campus police officer watched video footage from the day of the incident, which only showed Roe and Doe walking in the hallway. Campus police turned its documents and the video footage over to the sheriff's office. The district attorney later determined that the encounter was consensual and did not charge Doe.

Roe's mother called the assistant principal the day after the incident and told her that Roe was sexually assaulted and that she intended to press charges. The assistant principal did not ask any questions, did not indicate that she would investigate, and never provided a written report of any findings. She did not interview Roe.

After viewing the video footage and taking statements, the assistant principal decided, "probably pretty early on," that it was a consensual sexual encounter that went "too far." Based on this and her professed belief that if she punished Doe she would have to punish Roe as well, the assistant principal decided not to discipline Doe. She met with Doe and his mother and instructed him to stay away from Roe. She did not speak to campus police until a few weeks after the incident and never obtained a police report from campus police.

Roe did not return to school for the rest of the school year and began taking homebound classes. Roe's mother asked one of the school's counselors about counseling services for Roe and the counselor responded that the school "does not do that." Roe failed multiple classes that school year.

Doe's friends bullied Roe in person and on social media. A group of girls confronted Roe and accused her of trying to get Doe arrested by falsely accusing him of rape. And on social media, classmates called her a "baby killer," "scum," "a horrible human being," and told her to kill herself.

Roe attempted suicide before deciding to transfer to a school near her father's house in Indiana. However, she returned the following year. Roe's mother again asked the school to reschedule Roe's classes to avoid contact with Doe. The counselor responded that she would do what she could but that nothing could be done about the past.

No resources were provided to help Roe and she soon became overwhelmed. Eventually, someone in the registrar's office encouraged Roe's mother to withdraw Roe and homeschool her to avoid truancy charges. Roe did withdraw and never returned to any school.

Roe sued the district in federal court under Title IX, alleging that the district was deliberately indifferent to the warning signs of her assault and to her abusive relationship, sexual assault and subsequent harassment. The district court dismissed the lawsuit before it went to trial and Roe appealed, arguing that there was enough evidence for her to present her case to a jury.

The court of appeals noted that under Title IX, harassment must be "so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim's access to an educational opportunity or benefit."

In this case, the court held that a jury could conclude that it was. Roe suffered a years-long abusive relationship that resulted in a brutal sexual assault. This led directly to harassment and bullying by her peers. The court further found that a reasonable jury could conclude that the school district failed to investigate the incident.

The court reversed the decision of the district court on the issue of whether the school district was deliberately indifferent to the totality of the harassment and held that it should be returned to the district court for a trial.