District that tried to ban SPEAK accused of covering up rapes

I was planning on writing an update about the book banning efforts of Wesley Scroggins in Republic, MO next month. The school board finally made its decision about which books it would remove, and since we are so close to the one-year anniversary of the mess, I had decided to write about it then.

But then I found out that the mother of a special needs girl has filed suit against same school district in which she claims her daughter suffered “multiple sexual assaults” and was raped by a classmate in school in seventh grade. The suit claims that the daughter told school personnel, who did not report the accusations to authorities, that her daughter was shamed into recanting and forced to write a letter of apology to the rapist, then was RAPED AGAIN by the same boy in same school the following year.

So I am writing about the Republic School District a little earlier than I had planned to.

(I have linked to the original complaint, the district’s responses and other news coverage at the end of this post.)

The outrages pile up one atop the other. According to the complaint filed by the mother, this girl (then in seventh grade) suffered from repeated sexual harassment from the boy in question. When he finally raped her, she went to school officials. They told her mother that they did not think the girl’s accusations were credible. After that, they met with the girl a number of times, without the mother being present, to discuss her claims.

Apparently no one at the school contacted the police.

If I had written this storyline in a novel, my editor would have dismissed it as ridiculous. She’d say something like, “That would never happen in America today. School officials know that they are mandated reporters. They would have called the police the first time the girl spoke up.”

They didn’t. Instead, they made the girl write an apology letter to the boy she accused of raping her. Then they made her deliver it to him.

And then? They referred her to juvenile authorities for making up the whole story and suspended her for the rest of the school year.

(There is a big unanswered question here: did the police, acting on that referral from the school for false accusation, investigate? What did they find?)

When the girl started eighth grade the following September (2009), the lawsuit claims she was the victim of “repeated sexual assaults” for the entire school year. In February of 2010, the suit alleges that the boy took her to a secluded corner of the library and raped her.

The girl immediately spoke up again. School officials were skeptical and did not take any action. The girl was taken (by her mother, I believe) to the Child Advocacy Center for a SAFE exam (Sexual Assault Forensic Exam). The exam showed a “positive finding for sexual assault.” Semen collected in the the exam was found to be a DNA match for the boy in question.

The boy was arrested and pleaded guilty to the charges brought against him. (The lawsuit does not the specify the exact charges or his sentence.)

What did the school do? The lawsuit says it suspended THE GIRL again for “Disrespectful Conduct” and “Public Display of Affection.”

According to the local county prosecutor, Missouri state law lets the school officials off the hook for not reporting the incidents because the boy was not an adult. (The age of consent in Missouri is 17, but if the perpetrator is under 21, it appears that there is rarely prosecution. If any of you are trained in the nuances of Missouri sexual assault law, I’d love some more information about this.) But he also said the school should have erred on the side of caution and allowed a trained forensic professional to interview the girl and decide about her credibility.

I have no information about the kind of “special needs” the girl has. I believe that her disabilities, in there are any, would even further enhance the need of the school officials to bring in law enforcement the first time she spoke up.

What do you think?

1. Initial coverage of the lawsuit in the local newspaper

2. Excellent coverage of the story at Boing Boing.

3. PDF of the lawsuit against the Republic, MO school district, and the principal, counselor, and school resources officer of the middle school filed with the US district court.

4. PDF of the school district’s response to the mother’s lawsuit.

5. PDF of the Republic School District’s public statement, issued Wednesday, on the matter.

6. CBS News weighed in on the matter, too.

7. Local television coverage.