Doe v. North Penn School District
This is a civil rights lawsuit against North Penn School District, located in a Philadelphia suburb, for causing a female student, Jane Doe, to suffer repeated sexual assaults by a male classmate with a known history of sexual predation. The male classmate, MP, first began sexually abusing Jane at school when they were in sixth grade. The school learned of the abuse toward the end of that school year when another female student reported that MP had assaulted her, Jane, and other female classmates. The investigation confirmed that MP had sexually assaulted multiple female students at school, including Jane. The investigation also revealed that one of Jane’s teachers had witnessed MP’s abuse of Jane. But instead of treating the incident as a sexual assault, the teacher treated it as consensual sexual activity, warning Jane and MP that she would not tell their parents if it didn’t happen again. Ultimately, the school merely moved MP to another classroom and disciplined him for engaging in “obscene gestures,” not sexual assault.
To avoid contact with MP in middle school, Jane attended a different middle school—one away from her friends and the classmates she had grown up with. When the two students were about to enter North Penn High School, Jane and her mother reminded school officials that Jane should not be in the same classes as MP, and the officials assured them the students would be kept apart. Nonetheless, in tenth grade, the school district placed them in the same social studies class and they were assigned seats next to one another. MP took advantage of the situation to again sexually assault Jane many times.
Because of the school district’s failure to ensure Jane’s safety at school, Jane transferred high schools several times. To stay away from MP, she spent much of her high school career at a technical school that didn’t offer extracurricular activities and required Jane to take her core academic classes online, then switched to home-schooling. In addition to having her education derailed, Jane experienced significant psychological injuries, including anxiety and self-harming behavior.
On October 15, 2020, Jane brought Title IX and § 1983 claims against the school district for its deliberate indifference to Jane’s reports of sexual abuse, its deliberate indifference to the substantial risk posed by MP, and its failure to train school officials on how to identify and address sexual harassment.
The parties briefed cross-motions for summary judgment in 2022. The court denied North Penn School District’s motion for summary judgment in full and granted in part Jane’s motion for summary judgment on October 19, 2022.
On February 16, 2023, the parties reached a settlement under which the school district agreed to pay Jane $750,000 and make a series of district-wide changes. These changes include:
- Providing mandatory Title IX training (including training on student-on-student sexual harassment) to all district administrators and employees;
- Providing additional specialized training to district Title IX coordinators and assistant coordinators;
- Including in its curriculum age-appropriate, in-school instruction on identifying and reporting sexual harassment;
- Implementing recurring, district-wide climate surveys addressing sexual harassment; and
- Utilizing Title IX compliant procedures for reporting, investigating, and tracking sexual harassment.