Two Virginia school lawsuits are back in court.
Two sexual abuse lawsuits filed years ago against a Fairfax County middle school in Virginia are back in court after being delayed. One of the suits includes claims of ongoing abuse a student suffered that launched an investigation into the school system back in 2014. The middle school student filed an amended complaint last month after the school board’s efforts to block her suit were rejected.
The student in question has alleged that the abuse began in October 2011 when she was in seventh grade at Rachel Carson Middle School in Reston. One of her classmates began spreading false rumors that the two had a sexual relationship. As students got wind of the rumors, the girl began to be harassed in class and in the hallways. Then, another boy started to sexually assault her on a consistent basis, sometimes with other students, and demanded that she keep it to herself. This lasted for months, according to the lawsuit.
At one point, the suit states, a group of boys forced the girl into a closet on school grounds and assaulted her. Eventually, a nurse evaluated the girl and confirmed that she had scarring that clearly indicated she had been raped. However, when the family went to law enforcement, a police officer, who had been the former school resource officer, dismissed this as consensual sex. School administrators also continually downplayed the abuse, the lawsuit alleges, saying the acts were consensual, even though the student was only 12 years old and was actively begging the staff to do something about it.
In 2012, the girl’s mother intervened and filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. A two-year probe ensued, and afterwards, the school system voluntarily entered into a resolution agreement in which it did not have to admit to any wrongdoing. However, it agreed to strengthen its protocols for responding to sexual assault claims.
The lawsuit was officially filed in 2019. The school district appealed the case to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, but the court ruled unanimously that it would move forward. School administrators claimed they had cooperated fully with investigators and had agreed to make necessary changes to the way these cases are handled in the future.
“We continue to believe the senior staff acted appropriately and lawfully in addressing this family’s concerns 11 years ago,” it responded in a statement.
The second lawsuit involves another girl at Oakton High School who said she also was sexual assaulted by a boy on a bus during a band trip. The case went to trial in 2019 and a jury ruled in favor of the school system, acknowledging that the girl had been assaulted but indicating she did not give the school proper notice of what had occurred for administrators to intervene. The plaintiff appealed her case, and the 4th Circuit Court ruled 9-6 in her favor.
The appellate court’s dissenting justices argued that school districts should not be held liable for a sexual assault unless administrators and staff “had some reason to know prior to the assault that the perpetrator posed a risk to student safety.” However, the justices who ruled in her favor claimed the district should not be entitled to “one free rape” before it can be held liable. The case is awaiting a new trial.
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