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A Fairfax County organization has launched a petition asking Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) not to appeal a ruling that could limit the liability the county has when handling sexual harassment incidents.

 

The FCPS school board has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a sexual assault case involving a former Oakton High School student, identified as Jane Doe, who said the school district mishandled her 2017 sexual assault incident. The appeal has the potential to alter how sexual assault incidents are interpreted. 

 

According to the lawsuit, Jane Doe v. Fairfax County School Board, filed on May 23, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Doe claims that FCPS violated Title IX of a civil rights law that protects sexual assault victims and ignored her reports of the incident while on the trip. The lawsuit states that the school didn’t inform her of her options under Title IX, didn’t offer help, and didn’t ensure the safety of her or the other students. After losing the first trial, Doe filed for a new trial, which the school district opposed.

 

In a ruling filed Aug. 30, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit denied FCPS’ opposition, stating in its judicial decision that “schools do not get ‘one free rape.” 

 

The court stated: “Thus, the statute itself makes plain that a school may be held liable when it makes a  student vulnerable to sexual harassment by their peers,  such as by failing to respond appropriately after learning of an initial incident of sexual assault. In other words, schools do not get ‘one free rape.’”

 

FCPS said it will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make its decision about whether it will hear the appeal in April. 

 

Shatter the Silence FCPS, an organization created to advocate for sexual assault victims in FCPS, said, “Fairfax County Public Schools sees the reckoning other powerful institutions like the Catholic Church, USA Gymnastics, and the Boys Scouts faced for mishandling sexual abuse and knows it faces massive liability for its years of mishandling abuse reports and retaliating against survivors.”

 

It added: “FCPS wants to narrow Title IX so it faces as little accountability as possible for its failure to properly investigate sexual abuse.”

 

The petition on Change.org by Shatter the Silence has received almost 16,500 signatures calling for FCPS to drop its appeal to the Supreme Court saying that if the school district wins, they will get “one free rape.”

 

“It will also allow school districts across the country to ‘bury their heads in the sand’ rather than investigate reported sexual assaults,” the petition reads. 

 

Students at Centreville High School and Mount Vernon High School held walkouts on Thursday and Friday in protest of the school district’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

 

However, an FCPS spokesperson says the school district’s goal is not to gut protections found in Title IX. 

 

“The question, in this case, is only about whether Congress intended America’s public schools, and the teachers that work in them, to be held financially responsible for student-on-student misconduct that they had no way to foresee and did not cause,” said Julie Moult, a spokeswoman for the school district. “We believe the law should be applied the same way nationwide, and only the Supreme Court has the power to restore that uniformity.”

 

Supporters of the petition say that FCPS shouldn’t be able to get away with “one free rape” and they demand the school district follow the policy and procedures of Title IX. Fairfax County said they remain dedicated to protecting students from sexual assault.

 

“Fairfax County Public Schools is committed to upholding Title IX and firmly believes that every student deserves an education free from harassment or discrimination,” said Moult. “The decision to pursue this legal avenue has nothing to do with challenging this critical civil rights law.”

(1) comment

MolonLabe76

Excellent! Hopefully FFX County gets their rears handed to them!

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