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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Seattle Public Schools Under Federal Investigation After Garfield Parents Allege the District Botched a Sexual Assault Investigation

Posted by on Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 1:06 PM

Garfield High School
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  • Garfield High School
Last year, we discovered that Seattle Public Schools was under federal investigation for racial disparities in the school district's disciplinary practices. As Al Jazeera America reports this week, Seattle Public Schools is also one of the 23 school districts the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating for Title IX violations related to sexual assault.

Claire Gordon at Al Jazeera reports on the specific, disturbing case that prompted the federal investigation:

“I expected the school to say, ‘Something went terribly wrong, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,’” Emily’s father said. “But that never happened.”

Under Title IX, a school must conduct a prompt investigation into any report of sexual assault and determine whether it is “more likely than not” that it happened—a completely separate process from a criminal investigation, with a much lower burden of proof. In its policy, Seattle Public Schools says it will respond to reports within 30 days.

But the district didn’t begin to investigate the incident with Emily until six months after the alleged incident and only at the parents’ insistence, records and emails show. It took 14 months for the district to conclude that there was “insufficient evidence” that she was a “victim of harassment.”

Title IX also requires the investigation to be “equitable.” But the Millers said it was so deeply skewed that the district was essentially an advocate for the boy.

A June 2013 draft of the district’s report (a final one was never prepared) didn’t include Emily’s side of the story at all...

The parents, in this case, went into debt treating their daughter's resulting mental health issues and eventually moved away from Seattle. The district has answered very few questions about the case. At least one school board member, according to e-mails obtained by Al Jazeera, seems to have found the district's response to these parents problematic.

Title IX's prohibitions against sex discrimination in education include specific requirements for addressing complaints of sexual assault and harassment—and Gordon writes that, based on school records and e-mails, it appears SPS administration didn't understand Title IX's application in this case. Horrible errors like that not only create an unsafe learning environment for students, they also open up the (already under-funded) district to costly litigation. We'll see what happens when the federal Title IX report comes out. But the district had better get their act together: As Gordon reports, there were at least 47 student victims of a "sexual offense" at SPS in the last school year.

Read the whole story right here.


Comments (24) RSS

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That story was horrific in its normality. It all sounds so familiar.
Posted by Hanoumatoi on July 24, 2014 at 1:35 PM · Report this
interesting...all sexual assaults should be reported and investigated including those that happen in a woman's own home by a visitor.
Posted by randomthoughts on July 24, 2014 at 1:37 PM · Report this
Does the Stranger have a policy regarding using the names of sexual assault victims?
Posted by justwondering on July 24, 2014 at 2:03 PM · Report this
Eli Sanders 4
@3: From the Al Jazeera story linked in this post:

Editor's note: The alleged victim in this case did not participate in this report. Because naming her parents would identify her, her first name and her family name are pseudonyms.
Posted by Eli Sanders on July 24, 2014 at 2:14 PM · Report this
Joe Szilagyi 5
I don't understand why school policy isn't:

Rape or sexual allegation surrounding minors, involving all students or any other adults or staff with minor students = notify police and parents concurrently, stand aside pending any convictions.

The schools shouldn't be playing any mediator type role here. Am I wrong in this thinking, and if so, why?
Posted by Joe Szilagyi on July 24, 2014 at 3:04 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 6

The authorities were notified.

The issue in this instance is that, despite whatever happens with a criminal investigation, it's still incumbent on the school to do its own internal investigation and take its own disciplinary action while also protecting the victim from further victimization from the alleged assailant and/or his enablers. In this case, the Seattle School District failed on every front.
Posted by keshmeshi on July 24, 2014 at 3:08 PM · Report this
The District has a number of very specific and detailed procedures and policies in the event of a sexual assault. State and federal law also have a number of requirements. The only one that was followed was to report the incident to law enforcement. And that was unnecessary because the park rangers made the report to the FBI (the assault occurred on federal land). Both before the assault and after the assault the district staff at every level showed a callous disregard for the victim and her family. They utterly failed in their duty to supervise the students and utterly failed in their duty to properly address the assault. Beyond that, they were simply cruel to the victim and her family by refusing to respond to their questions, changing their story, and denying them information. In the end the superintendent somehow concluded that no sexual harassment had occurred. How he reached this definitive conclusion is beyond everyone's comprehension. The school board - faced with choice between upholding the superintendent's absurd conclusion or exposing the District to liability - upheld the absurd determination. Not exactly a panel without a conflict of interest, was it?
Posted by Charlie Mas on July 24, 2014 at 3:38 PM · Report this
Here's something else to consider: not one person who did the wrong thing in this entire horrific episode - not the assailant, the chaperones, the principal, the district safety officer, the district lawyers, the district general counsel, the district's investigator, the district Title IX officer, or the superintendent - will ever be held accountable for their failure to protect this child in their care. Not one of them will suffer any punishment. Not one of them will be deferred in their career advancement. Not one of them will be personally impacted in any way. It's unclear if the victim or her family will ever get their lives back on track.
Posted by Charlie Mas on July 24, 2014 at 3:43 PM · Report this
The incident occurred on Federal land. The FBI was in charge of the investigation.
Posted by ClaireClarity on July 24, 2014 at 4:29 PM · Report this
The fact is that the district will go to great lengths to avoid responsibility in every kind of investigation. First it is because they are minors, or they are union members, or they are fill in the blank whatever. Garfield has a history of bullshit and not all that way back. Let's see the student hazing in September, the last year where the kid was robbing kids in the can so they instead locked the bathrooms, the numerous vice principals that pass in and out, the special classes for athletes, the fake Scrap the Map nonsense that was just a waste of time and energy, they meanwhile still have tests and segregated classes. Then we have the teacher who was banging the students.. that they have a history of issues from. Then we have the fake addresses for athletes... and we have the kid who had a history of fucking a kid in middle school.. which one Washington? There have been a parade of admins there that might be why. And what about all these other assaults. There was one at Roosevelt a few years ago. How about the Coach there wanting his players to text him hot chicks. These are the two "best" schools that the supposed activist/blogger chick goes great lengths to defend. The witch hunts are distractions because if a Teacher fucked a kid on a field trip you can imagine the local news.. but no. Star athlete and of course the girl is nuts, a liar, or whatever euphemism you can come up with that puts her in a negative light.

The district relies on the stupidity of the people in Seattle who are largely disconnected from the public schools as they serve the poor.
Posted by GGVV on July 24, 2014 at 5:16 PM · Report this
Emails to the school board now get a form response that includes this line:

Please be assured that we take the issue of sexual assault seriously

Telling us that doesn't mean shit. They need to show us.

They can show us that they take the issue seriously by aggressively enforcing the policies that are supposed to protect students, by following the policies and procedures about what they are supposed to do in response to a report, and by showing some simple goddamn human compassion to the victims and their families instead of treating them as potential legal opponents from day one.
Posted by Charlie Mas on July 24, 2014 at 5:56 PM · Report this
This is the second Fed investigation - horrible. What happened with the special education investigation?
Posted by fmk on July 24, 2014 at 6:33 PM · Report this

The Seattle Public School blog did a story on this issue and it is worth reading through the comment section.

Was it the intent for the superintendent, board and district legal council to act as judge and jury? Was it the job of SPS legal staff to defend the district or promote justice for the victim? Issues need to be explored.…
Posted by Leonard on July 24, 2014 at 7:02 PM · Report this
Here's the story on Special Education:

SPS and OSPI agreed that four root causes have contributed to SPS’s current determination level of needing substantial intervention to meet special education compliance. These root causes include (a) de-centralization of SPS’s Special Education Department, (b) lack of consistency in SPS’s Special Education Department leadership personnel, (c) problems in successful transition to a new IEP system, and (d) an increasing student population with stagnant personnel resources. The Special Education Comprehensive Corrective Action Plan for the Seattle School District (C-CAP), approved in October, 2013, was designed to correct noncompliance with the individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and move SPS’s status determination toward meeting the requirements and purposes of IDEA. Previous reports noted in the C-CAP have documented special education noncompliance in 2011 through 2013 and the need to create a culture of system-wide accountability.

While recommendations have been consistently provided in these reports, no plan for strategic execution, no commitment to execution, no acknowledgement of the need to incorporate implementation science in corrective actions, no actionable strategies for implementation, and no action plan for leadership capacity building were included in prior reports.

This statement comes directly from a recent report on Seattle's Special Education program by an outside expert hired by the District. In other words, nice talk but no real action that will create change.
Posted by Charlie Mas on July 24, 2014 at 8:05 PM · Report this
Special Ed is a real bear of a problem. There never was sufficient money for those deemed needing Special Ed, and now with better diagnostic procedures and even less money, we have an increasing number of kids and less services. The problem was masked somewhat several decades ago during the "mainstreaming" years (which was a failure for many reasons), but now it's obvious. I don't know if it will ever be solved because primary education is one of the many things that Republicans in the legislature like to talk about instead of funding it.
Posted by sarah70 on July 24, 2014 at 8:50 PM · Report this

Excellent points! You asked about the middle school where the assailant had previously been disciplined for having sex in the bushes on lunch recess. That was Mercer Middle School according to public records.. Was that also a sexual assault and how did the district handle it? When I asked the officer involved who walks the beat at Garfield, he seemed to suggest one thing. When I asked him again, after he had probably conferred with Garfield, he seemed to give me a different answer. In fact, when I told him about the incident without naming the assailant, he immediately named the assailant. Woah!!!!!!
Posted by staff member on July 24, 2014 at 9:45 PM · Report this
Response to #13 Leonard,

You asked:

"Was it the intent for the superintendent, board and district legal council to act as judge and jury? Was it the job of SPS legal staff to defend the district or promote justice for the victim? Issues need to be explored."

The District's motto is "Everyone Accountable." It's real motto is "Liability over Accountability" The fear of a lawsuit dictates every move it makes. The legal department is running the district. Justice for the victims is never in its consciousness.

Does saveseattleschools blog have a link to the family's FB site?
Posted by aviva on July 24, 2014 at 9:58 PM · Report this
I'm sorry, but if the parents of a child report the abuse of their child, and then refuse to allow anyone (from police to the school district) to speak with her, then there is something else going on here altogether. Get ALL the facts here people.
Posted by maggieJ on July 24, 2014 at 11:39 PM · Report this
19 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
#18, did you read the Al Jazeera story? How about the Facebook page? Did you read the Seattle Schools Blog? I am guessing that all that linking and reading and that would be challenging, time consuming and of course horrifying.

Do you have a relationship to the rapist? To the school administrator? Ted Howard the Prinicipal is known as a utter phony and liar. He has a long checkered history in the district but because his daddy was a legacy principal who was one of the many paid off to leave the district, I'm sure that has a back story we will never find out who knew what, when they knew it and then what they did or did not know.

Garfield's legacy is 50 years old. Even the Jezebel writer said "I went there and I want my kid to go there" Really when you have children "some day" in 15 years or longer? Really how provincial and sad. Schools change, people change and times change. Living in the present is probably a good philosophy. I am thoroughly versed in the present and this tells me that there is HUGE problem.

We have had student's raped at Roosevelt also acclaimed and at RBHS not acclaimed but of course its "RB". This type of selective reporting and in turn handling of problems shows that there is no one minding the store. It is a pattern throughout Seattle when it comes to the public institutions that serve Seattle and their poor and minority. Would you go to a public school? Would you go to Harborview for medical care? Would you go the Veterans Hospital? Would you trust the Seattle Police in the Southern Precinct? Would you ride the high risk Metro routes? I can provide you with the numbers

We live in a two tier City that hasn't changed and it never will. We closed schools rather than integrate. We segregate now. Look at Lowell once a thriving school its down to 200 plus kids and the "smart" kids are in Wallingford. Look at the schools once you cross 85th and Greenwood. Scary as shit. Yet in those hoods are amazing pockets of schools that serve homeless kids in the north end!!! Who knew?

Read and ask questions and you will learn. We still teach that even in Seattle Public Schools.
Posted by GGVV on July 25, 2014 at 6:32 AM · Report this
@18, can you read? The victim reported the abuse. She was taken to a hospital where she submitted to a rape kit exam. She was interviewed by the FBI. By the time the District "investigator" got around to his prompt and unbiased interview it was seven months after the fact and the victim was living out of the state. No one in the family refused to talk - it was the District officials who refused to respond to them. I think maybe YOU are the one who needs to get the facts. Asshole.
Posted by Charlie Mas on July 25, 2014 at 8:08 AM · Report this
Hello- Was the girl the victim, or was the boy the victim? Did the girl express her fantasy of having sex with that particular boy along with "OTHERS" to friends on the trip, and prior to the trip on school grounds? Did the girl who had a huge crush on the boy and initially reported " HE SNUCK INTO MY CABIN, WHILEI WERE ASLEEP" then later admitted I went over to his cabin after alerting everyone in her cabin prior to about the sex she wanted to have with him? Did the girl who had recently while attending this trip found out that her current boyfriend had cheated on him, and told others on the trip that she was going to pay him back by cheating on the boyfriend in return? After the girl went over to indulge in CONSENUAL SEX mind you she galloped over to the boys cabin, and several boys were wide awake and witnessed (despite what her "FAMILY" who was NOT present) says and she and the boy had sex. It wasn't until AFTER sex was over she admit that there was some discomfort in the intercourse and that it never felt like that before "WELCOME TO THE BLACK MAMBA" Did the media report she even asked the gentleman to walk her back to her cabin and he did so? It is unclear to me why the words RAPE were never mentioned until after the girl told a few friends how guilty she felt by cheating on her boyfriend and asked their advice on how she was going to confess to him.... I also will mention the "hearsay" I was informed of in 2012 when this first surfaced that being the girl was even more nervous about what her parents would think of her having sex with a male of color, now I am not in any way denying the school district obeyed policy, or not, however I will not act as if I believe this girl was raped and I will finish up by saying there was PLENTY of reasoning why there were NO charges filed and everyone can blame SPS, but the F.B.I. is NOT known for dropping the ball especially in a case such as this one and they investigated IMMEDIATELY and one last thing, GHS owed this girl NO explanation of the boy returning to school because as records show the boy was not serving a suspension based on discipline, now you people tend to know "THE RIGHTS" when things don't go your way, but this young man too has RIGHTS and because of that the FBI, SPS did conduct an investigation and "NOTHING". It's a perfect example of how people in turn do things out of spite that can cause distraction in an innocent persons life but THANK GOD FOR RIGHTS, & HONESTY. And after following this case I myself would agree the kid was FRAMED.
Posted by duhh_hhh on July 28, 2014 at 4:11 AM · Report this
Wow, duhh_hhh, you sure have a lot of information that isn't available in any public records.

Or you're making stuff up.
Posted by Charlie Mas on July 28, 2014 at 3:46 PM · Report this
#22 I DO see why this girl did NOT want to go back to GHS
Posted by Refried on July 29, 2014 at 5:47 AM · Report this

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