Upper St. Clair: Could the School Have Prevented Rape?
School districts have a list of policies that are to be followed in the case that something happens that endangers one or more students, teachers, or faculty members. These policies range in degree from detentions, to in and out of school suspensions, through a student no longer being permitted to attend the school district.
Upper St. Clair School District in Pennsylvania is facing a thirty-five page lawsuit naming the district as well as eight administrators and teachers at the high school. The lawsuit was filed when the school failed to respond properly to the reports of assault and harassment made by a female student (pseudonym Jane Doe) against a fourteen year old male student.
From the information given, it is understood that prior to the assaults the two students had been friends and classmates in an emotional support program that is part of the school’s special education classes.
When the first assault took place, the student talked to a teacher about what had happened – the teacher allegedly didn’t take any action. Later, the student again went to the teacher to report an assault and the teacher contacted the school’s intervention specialist for assistance. The teacher and intervention specialist (Esther Haguel) decided to suspend the student – in school suspension – and to have him write Jane a letter of apology.
Later in January when Ms. Haguel began to have some worries about Jane’s safety, she requested being allowed to escort her to the bus at the end of the day – a request that the principal of the school denied.
Friday February First, according to the complaint, another student was raped, the accused student apparently leaving what police believe to be a “trophy” of his act in the stairwell that remained through the weekend. Monday a third girl is was taken to the same stairwell and raped, and thirty minutes later Jane was taken from the girl’s bathroom to the stairwell and raped.
It boggles my mind to think that a school district could have ignored policy when generally schools are so very policy driven. Many schools have turned to a zero tolerance policy – meaning that if students fight they will be automatically given out of school suspension for three days and possibly face charges. The same policy is held for harassment. It doesn’t seem to make any sense that a student assaulting another student would be given an in school suspension rather than out of school.
Aside from the school policies that are in place – which in this case seem to have been dismissed without reason – if the teacher was so concerned for the safety of this student why didn’t she take the information to the principal when the problems began?She waited almost a month with more than one complaint to speak with the principal about her concerns for this student’s safety. I understand that cameras can miss areas of schools, but if someone can see the cameras and there was film of Jane being taken from the girls restroom to the stairway before being out of camera view – why was nobody watching the computer or even patrolling the hallways to be sure all students are in their classrooms?
Why is it that an intervention specialist – specially trained for the job and her work in the district – would only have had the male student write a letter of apology? When for so many schools the penalty for fighting is a definite three days out of school, it seems odd that a student could receive in school suspension for something like this.
I am also left wondering about this principal and how he is supposed to be in charge of the education and most importantly the safety of the students and faculty in his building. He wouldn’t even allow a teacher to walk a student to her bus when she’d reported assault by another student.
Even more – the school district has been quoted saying that they followed the policies of their school district. The lawyer believes, however, that had the policies been followed and the police alerted from the beginning, the rape almost a month later could have been prevented. Now I can’t help but to hope that the school and other schools have learned from this and of course that the girls are receiving the help that they need in healing.