HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Officials in the Madison County School System should pay for their mistakes.
In an amicus brief, the U.S. Justice Department argues district officials who allowed a 14-year-old special needs student to be used as bait in a 2010 sex sting gone wrong showed “deliberate indifference,” and their actions should be grounds for the victim to sue the district under the federal Title IX statute, CNN reports.
The Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Education both filed the legal brief in support of the victim’s federal lawsuit against the school district over the incident “that has essentially devastated her life,” Eric Artrip, the family’s attorney, told the news site.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta is currently determining the fate of the young girl’s lawsuit, which stems from a January 2010 incident at Sparkman Middle School in Toney, Alabama.
School vice principals Jeanne Dunaway and Teresa Terrell allegedly received a complaint that a male 16-year-old had touched a student inappropriately, and the student was issued an in-school suspension. Days later, teacher’s aide June Simpson reported to principal Ronnie Blair that the student “repeatedly tried to convince girls to have sex with him in the boys’ bathroom on the special needs students’ corridor” and was successful in at least one attempt, according to the legal brief cited by CNN.
The principal allegedly refused to punish the student because he denied the allegations and was not “caught in the act.” That’s when Simpson allegedly hatched a plan to convince one of the targets of the boy’s advances to participate in a sting operation to collect the necessary evidence for administrators to act, according to media reports.
When Simpson asked one of the girls who reported the boy’s advances to participate in a sting operation the student initially refused to act as bait. But Simpson allegedly convinced the girl that she would be safe, and that school officials would intervene before anything happened.
But that’s not how it played out.
After a meeting between Dunaway, Simpson and the student, the young girl sought out the boy and agreed to his proposition for sex. But the boy told his classmate to meet in the sixth-grade boys’ bathroom in another part of the school, rather than the special education bathroom, where his previous exploits took place, according to CNN.
“No teachers were in the bathroom to intervene,” according to the legal brief.
“She stalled for time. He continually tried to fight him off but ultimately was anally raped by this young man,” Artrip told the news site.
A medical examination after the incident confirmed the girl experienced trauma “consistent with being sodomized,” although the boy claims he only kissed the victim, according to CNN and legal documents.
School officials reportedly testified that they were unsure if the girl consented to the sexual assault, and listed the incident as “inappropriate touching a female in boys’ bathroom” in school records. The student offender, who had a lengthy history of violent and sex-related misconduct, was suspended for five days, and sent to an alternative school, only to return to Sparkman less than a month later, CNN reports.
“The boy had been involved in 15 violent or sex-related proven incidents of misconduct before the rape, according to the brief,” the news site reports. “Federal attorneys say details about the severity of the incidents are unavailable because school administrators shredded the boy’s disciplinary files.”
What’s worse is Dunaway testified that the victim, not the school, was responsible for what happened in the bathroom, according to the brief.
The girl’s father filed a federal lawsuit in October 2010 against his daughter’s attacker, school administrators, Simpson, and the school board, citing violations of the girl’s civil rights and protections under Title IX.
A district judge the same year removed the boy from the lawsuit because he was a minor, as well as the federal Title IX claims, but allowed claims against the state, Simpson and Dunaway to move forward.
The case is now pending appeals from both sides, according to media reports.
The federal Title IX tasks schools that receive federal funds with responding appropriately to claims of sexual harassment. It’s the same federal statute that educator sexual misconduct advocates claim is disregarded in cases involving teachers who sexually abuse students, despite clear obligations to protect students outlined in the law.
“We felt, the teacher putting her into this position, because of the policy as interpreted by the school board and principal, violated Title IX,” Artrip told CNN.
Aside from the legal brief filed by the Justice and Education departments, the Women’s Law Center and 32 national and local groups also submitted a joint brief in support of the victim’s lawsuit.
“We hope that the attention that this case is getting will spur a movement on these kinds of policies so that a girl can simply report sexual harassment without having a need to bring a witness with her or roll up her shirt and show bruises,” Artrip said.
The victim, who was severely traumatized and uncommunicative after the attack, initially moved to North Carolina with her brother to live with her mother, but the mother died a short time later. The girl and her brother are now in the custody of Child Protective Services in North Carolina, Artrip told CNN.
The school district, meanwhile, refuses to comment about the case, and neither Blair nor other administrators involved in appear to have been disciplined.
Simpson resigned, CNN reports, but “Dunaway is now principal at Madison County Elementary School,” according to the news report.