Sexual harassment records sought in federal lawsuit against Concord School District

Monitor staff
Published: 7/18/2019 1:41:36 PM

A former Concord student and her father are asking a federal judge to force the school district to hand over four years of records as part of their lawsuit that says administrators improperly investigated the girl’s report of sexual assault and failed to make accommodations to ensure her safety.

The family of the girl sued the district after she reported being sexually assaulted by a classmate on a school bus in 2017. Now they say their requests for Concord High School’s disciplinary records and communications concerning incidents of sexual harassment and bullying between 2015 and 2019 were denied. They are asking a judge to force the district to turn over records related to incidents of sexual harassment, arguing they are essential to supporting the claims brought in their U.S. District Court Title IX lawsuit, which accuses the district of violating the girl’s constitutional rights.

“How the defendants responded to incidents and complaints of sexual harassment over the course of multiple years, including how they investigated the complaints and trained staff to handle such complaints, are at the heart of whether or not the defendants created a practice and acted with deliberate indifference in regards to the plaintiff’s claims,” wrote the family’s attorney, Karen Hewes of EdLaw New England in Bedford.

The girl, who lived in Deerfield and was a Concord High junior in 2017, says school administrators took months to investigate her report of sexual harassment and assault on a school bus in November 2017, according to the lawsuit. Instead of setting restrictions and parameters for the boy, school staff instructed the girl on what hallways and stairwells to use to get to class to avoid her perpetrator, the suit says.

The girl and her family have brought four claims against the district to include Title IX violations and negligence and are also seeking compensation for attorney’s fees. The lawsuit alleges that the sexual assault and harassment were so severe that the girl was denied her right to a public education at Concord High School and later transferred to another high school in the area. The suit names Superintendent Terri Forsten, Concord High Principal Thomas Sica and three assistant principals as defendants.

Through its attorneys, the district has denied all claims brought forward in the federal lawsuit and said administrators did not violate federal or state law or any public policies. Further, the district maintains its investigation was “thorough and complete” and included a report to Deerfield police.

The district is contesting the family’s request for records as they contain confidential information involving minors who are not identified in the suit. Officials also argue the request is too broad in scope because it includes years when the girl was not at Concord High.

While the girl’s family has made broad requests for four years of records concerning reports of sexual harassment at Concord High, they’re also seeking all drafts of documents generated as a result of the school’s investigation into the girl’s report of sexual assault in late 2017.

Hewes questioned whether school officials have “altered, tampered with or falsified” some of those documents.

Hewes cites two letters the district dated two days apart in December 2017, one of which the district sent the father at the time and another that he only learned of through disclosures made as part of the suit. Hewes said one letter, dated Dec. 11, does not make mention of “the unwanted physical contact that occurred” or the girl’s “further disclosure relating to a sexual assault.” The district says it sent the letter, but the family never received it. However, another letter, dated Dec. 13, does include an acknowledgment of her report of a sexual assault. The family did receive that letter, but the school district has not produced that letter as evidence in the suit, Hewes said.

The girl first disclosed what had happened on the school bus the day after in a meeting with Assistant Principal James Corkum and the school resource officer. Six days later, she met with Assistant Principal Chali Davis to whom she spoke to about the full extent of what had occurred, noting that she was more comfortable talking to a woman than two men, the suit says.

The district denies in its response to the lawsuit that the girl reported certain details to Davis on Dec. 6, 2017, including the nature of the assault itself, that she froze during it and that it was not consensual.

Hewes says the district is contradicting itself because several district documents clearly state the girl reported a sexual assault.

The district completed its investigation into the girl’s reports by early March 2018, more than three months after she first spoke to administrators. The district concluded that because the girl did not say “no” until after the fact, the boy had not violated the school’s Title IX policy.

Hewes argues that finding contradicts federal law because it shifts the responsibility for the sexual assault from the perpetrator to the victim.

The case is scheduled for trial in Concord in April 2020.

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