Doe v. Washington Public Schools
This is a civil rights case brought by an Oklahoma middle school student subjected to three sexual assaults by his male peers in an 18-month period, almost daily verbal harassment and bullying, and threats of physical harm and death in Washington Public Schools that went unchecked by officials with authority to stop it.
Central to the case is the superintendent and school principal’s refusal to recognize that forcible digital penetration of a student’s rectum is sexual assault–regardless of whether the victim is male or female. Instead, they treated this conduct as normal “horseplay” between boys or, at worst, “accidental” touching.
Although the boy and his parents reported these incidents to the school principal and district superintendent, school officials were dismissive of the problem. The complaint alleges Title IX and equal protection violations by the school district, as well as equal protection violations by both the superintendent and school principal.
Public Justice and the Denton Law Firm filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma on March 26, 2018. The school district filed a motion to dismiss. On June 11, 2018, the court denied the bulk of the district’s motion, permitting the student to proceed with his Title IX and equal protection claims against the district, as well as his equal protection claims against the individually-named superintendent and principal.
The case was settled after cross-motions for summary judgment, but before the court’s ruling on the motions. On August 19, 2020, the court approved the settlement. In addition to paying $550,000, the school district has agreed to non-monetary terms that will result in systemic reforms.
The reforms include three years of outside review of the district’s policies and procedures to ensure Title IX compliance; three years of outside training and professional development assistance on Title IX and the district’s harassment, intimidation and bullying (HIB) policies; tracking and documenting all HIB reports, including sexual harassment and retaliation, and setting up a database for this; performing annual, age-appropriate, anonymous climate surveys to address HIB issues, including sexual harassment; designating and training at least one employee, who is not a member of the athletic department, to serve as its Title IX Coordinator; publishing the HIB policies and contact information for the Title IX Coordinator on the district’s website; ensuring a counselor or other qualified professional is available to assist students with mental health concerns as a result of harassment or bullying; continuing to provide anti-violence and mental health training and education pursuant to a grant received from the U.S. Department of Justice; and providing three years of annual reports to plaintiffs’ counsel demonstrating compliance with the settlement agreement.
- Adele Kimmel
Nathan Richter of The Denton Law Firm