Lawyers for a former Fairfax County student recently filed an amended complaint against the Fairfax County School Board outlining allegations of an unsafe environment that led to repeated sexual harassment and sexual assaults of the student.
The suit, filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, alleges that school officials ignored the then 12-year-old student after she reported the harassment. This, the suit states, led to more sexual abuse by other students. It also claims the school worked to cover up and retaliate against the student following the accusations.
The plaintiff, who goes by the pseudonyms “BR” and “Kate” to protect her identity, attended Rachel Carson Middle School from October 2011 until February 2012. The suit states that Kate made multiple attempts to inform school officials about the alleged assault and ongoing sexual harassment but that they ignored her and minimized her claims.
In October 2011, Kate said she was sexually assaulted at another male student’s home. In the following days, she claimed the boy and his friends de ella began spreading false rumors and sexually harassing her on school grounds. When she tried to meet with her guidance counselor, the suit states, the counselor “was too busy to see her.”
When she managed to meet with another guidance counselor, Kate said she was told “she was simply adapting to middle school.”
The suit claims the behavior of the counselors and teachers “demonstrate the absence of or significant deficiencies of training provided by Fairfax County Public Schools and Fairfax County School Board.”
After her attempts to report the abuse, the suit states Kate was physically and sexually assaulted and battered on her way home from school by male students. It also claims the boys “accosted Plaintiff at or near her bus stop nearly every day after school.”
According to the suit, Kate’s parents met with the assistant principal in November 2011 and were told that one of the two boys “had a very hard life and been in enough trouble.” The assistant principal also told her parents of her to keep Kate home while the school looked into the claims of her.
“When a student sexually harasses another student, the harassing conduct creates a hostile environment if the conduct is sufficiently serious that it interferes with or limits a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the school’s program,” the complaint reads.
The suit seeks compensatory damages due to Kate’s ongoing suffering “from losses of educational opportunities and benefits, along with injuries, damages and losses, including, but not limited to, emotional distress, fear, anxiety, trauma, traumatic brain injury, lost future earnings.” and earning capacity.” A specific monetary figure is not attached to the suit.
In response to the claims, the Fairfax County School Board told InsideNoVa that it takes the allegations very seriously but said, “The allegations made today differ significantly from those reported to the school at the time.”
The School Board said Rachel Carson Middle has long been recognized as a center of excellence among educators. “We continue to believe the senior staff acted appropriately and lawfully in addressing this family’s concerns 11 years ago.”
The board added that it does not tolerate harassment, bullying or violence between students and is committed to providing an environment free from such misconduct.
In 2014, Kate filed an administrative complaint with the federal government. As a result, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and the department launched an investigation into her allegations. The OCR and Fairfax reached a settlement when the department found “some instances in which the Division’s response to the offenses may not have been prompt and appropriate under Title IX.” Following the findings, Fairfax was required to update its policies.
Despite the OCR and Fairfax’s settlement, Kate filed a complaint with the US Eastern District Court of Virginia in 2019. Fairfax attempted to have it thrown out because she did not have permission to file the suit under a pseudonym. But the Fourth Circuit Court denied Fairfax’s motion to dismiss the case in November 2021.
In a release, advocacy group Shatter the Silence Fairfax County Public Schools said the school system “has a serious and substantiated pattern and practice of mishandling sexual assault and abuse. The school board, with its cover-up and retaliation culture, cannot be trusted to reform itself.”
The group, which works to fight sexual abuse, harassment, and discrimination in schools, is asking the US Department of Justice and the Virginia Attorney General’s office to intervene in making schools safer.
Acacia James covers Fairfax County with a focus on affordable housing, access to transportation and other issues affecting underserved communities.