Fairfax County schools officials have rejected a former student’s account of sexual assault, contending in court papers the alleged encounter the 17-year-old girl had with another student on a school band trip wasn’t reported as an assault.
The teen, a recent Oakton High School graduate, and her parents filed a lawsuit in May accusing school system officials of failing to adequately investigate the alleged assault. The student accused the school district of violating its obligations to uphold Title IX, the federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal money.
But in a response to the lawsuit filed June 20, an attorney for the Fairfax County School Board argued the encounter the teenager described to school officials “was not a sexual assault.” The response from Fairfax County Public Schools — using its initials — says it “took meaningful and appropriate action” to address what the girl, identified as Jane Doe, said happened.
“The School Board denies that Ms. Doe reported a sexual assault . . . and denies that she was damaged by FCPS’s response to the sexual encounter that she described to school officials,” the response says.
School district spokesman John Torre declined to comment Tuesday on pending litigation.
The school system, Torre said, “takes all allegations of Title IX violations seriously, investigates those allegations and takes action where appropriate, including referrals to law enforcement for possible criminal prosecution.”
Adele Kimmel, an attorney with Public Justice, a nonprofit legal advocacy group representing the teen who said she was assaulted, said the district’s response “lacks credibility” and demonstrates how “poorly trained” school system employees are in handling reports of sexual assault.
In 2014, the Fairfax school system entered into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education to improve the handling of sexual harassment cases. That pact was prompted by an alleged sexual harassment case involving students.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, stems from a five-day band trip in March 2017. The girl, who was 16 at the time, said a male student, who was a senior, sat next to her on a school bus traveling to Indianapolis for a band exhibition.
The male student, who was not named in the lawsuit, allegedly covered the girl and himself in a blanket after saying he was cold, the lawsuit says.
He allegedly moved his hand up the girl’s leg, without her consent, and is accused of grabbing the girl’s hand and forcing her to rub his genitals, fighting her attempts to stop him, the lawsuit says. The male student, according to the lawsuit, also allegedly forced his hand down the girl’s pants, penetrated her with his fingers and grabbed her breasts.
The Washington Post does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent.
In its response, the Fairfax County School Board acknowledged a blanket was used to cover both students. The 17-year-old girl touched the male student’s genitals “with her hand and rubbed it,” and the male student put his hands under the girl’s shirt and down her pants, the district’s response says.
But the school system denied the girl tried to pull her hand away or that she was forced to rub the male student’s genitals, according to the response. The school system also denied the girl was “shocked, scared, and humiliated,” as the teenager alleged in her lawsuit.
The school system referred to the students’ experience as a “sexual encounter” and as “sexual activity” in its response to the lawsuit. It also rejected the teenager’s assertion the school system conducted an inadequate investigation.
In her lawsuit, the girl said she told four friends about the alleged assault, two of whom reported it to school employees shortly after they were told, according to the lawsuit. One friend told an assistant principal who was on the band trip, and the second friend, who was not on the trip, informed a math teacher, the lawsuit says.
A third student told a parent about the alleged assault after the trip, according to the lawsuit. The parent then reported the incident to the school’s band director, the suit says.
The School Board acknowledged that school system employees spoke with the two friends and that the band director was contacted by the parent. But, according to the school district, the employees never received reports of a sexual assault.
Kimmel, the 17-year-old girl’s attorney, noted the teenager provided a written statement on March 13, 2017, to Oakton administrators describing the alleged assault.
“I moved my hand away but he moved my hand back onto his genitals. I was so shocked and scared that I did not know what to say or do,” the statement says. “He then started to move his hands towards me and I tried to block him but he still put his hands up my shirt and down my pants.”
The school district, in court papers, acknowledged the teenager included those sentences in her statement.
Kimmel said a student or parent shouldn’t have to explicitly say an encounter was “sexual assault” for the school system to investigate an incident as such.
“Any reasonable person . . . would recognize that she was describing nonconsensual activity,” Kimmel said.