Student sues administrator, school district over response to… | TCTA
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Student sues administrator, school district over response to alleged sexual assault

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A female student sued the school district and an assistant principal, alleging that they failed to adequately investigate and discipline a male student who sexually assaulted her at school. The student alleged that the male student entered a music practice room while she was alone practicing and sexually assaulted her. Later that day, she informed one of her teachers that the student had exposed himself to her, but did not mention the assault.

The teacher notified the assistant principal, who took the student aside and asked her to write down what happened. However, he took the statement away from her before she finished it. The assistant principal then took the student to the school district police department.

The student disclosed her full account of the incident for the first time later that day to her mother, who took her immediately to the police station to make a report. The police contacted the school district police department and assistant principal, who arrived at the station and began to question the student in a purportedly antagonistic manner, accusing her of lying and threatening to file charges against her. The assistant principal allegedly stated that "women lie about these things all the time." The mother took her daughter and left the station. The student was later withdrawn from the district and enrolled in private school after two suicide attempts.

The student filed suit, alleging that the assistant principal had violated her rights to equal protection of the law by failing to investigate the assault, failing to discipline the alleged perpetrator and manifesting deliberate indifference to the sexual assault. She further alleged that the district had violated her rights under Title IX by failing to adequately protect her from gender-based harassment at school.

The assistant principal and school district requested that the lawsuit be dismissed. In support of that request, the assistant principal denied making the comment that "women lie about these things all the time." The district also provided further details about its investigation into the alleged assault, consisting of witness interviews and security camera footage that it claimed revealed that the alleged assault did not occur. The case was dismissed and the student appealed to the Court of Appeals.

Court addresses claims

The Court of Appeals first addressed the claim that the assistant principal violated the student's rights to equal protection. It noted that the student must show that she received treatment different from that received by similarly situated male individuals and that the reason for the unequal treatment stemmed from an intent to discriminate against her.

Although the assistant principal's actions seemed callous and indifferent, failing to adequately respond to a student's complaint is not a violation of equal protection unless the student can show that discrimination against women was the motivating factor behind the inaction. Although the alleged comment that "women lie about these things all the time" is sexist, it does not amount to a violation of equal protection. The Court of Appeals upheld dismissal of the lawsuit against the assistant principal.

The court then addressed the lawsuit against the district. Title IX states that a school district may be liable for student-on-student harassment if the district:

  1. had actual knowledge of the harassment;
  2. the harasser was under the district's control;
  3. the harassment was based on the victim's sex;
  4. the harassment was severe, pervasive and offensive; and
  5. the district was deliberately indifferent to the harassment.

Here the Court of Appeals found that the district was not deliberately indifferent in its investigation of the incident. It noted that administrators reported the incident to the school district police and that district police and school district staff conducted witness interviews, reviewed security camera footage and conducted a lie detector test of the alleged assailant, who passed.

Based on the investigation, the district concluded that the assault had not occurred. The Court of Appeals held that even if the student disagreed with the outcome of the investigation, she could not show that the district was deliberately indifferent to her complaint and upheld dismissal of the lawsuit.