The federal government ruled yesterday that an Alabama middle school can be punished for using a 14-year-old girl as bait to catch a sexually aggressive male student. The girl was raped by the student during the sting.
Administrators from Sparkman Middle School near Huntsville, Alabama, unsuccessfully argued that they should not be held responsible for what happened between the two students. The U.S. Department of Justice disagreed, and said the girl was raped because school administrators coerced the girl into meeting the boy as part of a sting.
The 16-year-old offender has a long history of sexual aggression. His academic record is littered with “inappropriate touching” offenses, which is often the offense Sparkman Middle records when a sexual harassment or abuse claim lacks witnesses.
The victim repeatedly told teachers in recent weeks that the boy was trying to convince her to meet in the bathroom for sex. She refused his requests each time, and wanted administrators to intervene. She told teacher’s aide June Simpson about his advances, and Simpson went to principal Ronnie Blair.
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Despite the boy’s record, Blair told Simpson that the boy “could not be punished because he had not been caught in the act.”
When the school refused to intervene, Simpson devised a plan. She told the young girl to agree to meet the boy in the bathroom, at which time administrators would arrive and catch him in the act before anything could happen. The girl initially refused to take part in the plan, but was eventually coerced by administrators.
Several days later, the girl met the boy in the bathroom as planned. But no teachers ever arrived to catch the boy, and he raped the girl in the bathroom. A medical examination found bruises on the girl and confirmed she was sodomized.
The victim and her parents went to the legal system after they unsuccessfully tried to hold the school accountable for the reckless and failed sting plan. Administrators tried to absolve the school of any liability, saying they weren’t responsible for what happened between two students in a bathroom. Department of Justice officials rejected that logic.
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"A school board cannot avoid summary judgment as a matter of law when a school administrator willfully ignores a plan to use a 14-year-old special needs student as bait to catch a student with a known history of sexual and violent misconduct, and as a result, the student is sodomized," the federal brief reads.
Federal officials argue that "...a jury could easily conclude that the school acted with deliberate indifference when, despite two sexual misconduct complaints against (the boy) days before he sodomized (the girl), it provided him unsupervised access to students and failed to protect (the girl)."
The court found that Sparkman Middle School consistently fails to properly punish sexual harassment claims, shreds disciplinary records, and writes deliberately misleading reports on sexual harassment and assault claims.
Ultimately, the court ruled that the family has the right to file a Title IX lawsuit against the school. Title IX, the brief says, “makes a recipient of federal funds, here, the school district, 'liable for [its] deliberate indifference to known acts of peer sexual harassment.'"