There is a horrific story out of Huntsville, Alabama, where school officials are being sued after a 14-year-old girl with special needs was allegedly used as bait to catch a student sexual predator. A lawsuit states that the girl reluctantly agreed, but that she was then trapped by the boy and anally raped in a bathroom. The school later suggested that the sex may have been consensual and denied responsibility. The case has prompted the Justice Department to file a brief in favor of the girl in the litigation, a relatively rare move in such a case.
According to the lawsuit, a teacher’s aide was intent on catching a boy who had been accused of sexual misconduct and had previously propositioned this girl to have sex at the school.
Sparkman Middle School vice principals Jeanne Dunaway and Teresa Terrell are named as being concerned about a complaint that they boy had touched a girl inappropriately and had assigned him to in-school suspension. A few days later, June Simpson, a teacher’s aide at the Huntsville-area school, allegedly told the principal, Ronnie Blair, that the boy had “repeatedly tried to convince girls to have sex with him in the boys’ bathroom on the special needs students’ corridor” and had actually had sex with one student. Blair said that he could could not be punished unless “caught in the act.” The boy and the girl in that incident denied having sex but Simpson asked that the boy be “constantly monitored.”
The complaint states that, on January 22, 2010, the boy approached a 14-year-old girl with special needs who had already declined his “recent, repeated propositions” for sex. Simpson then allegedly encouraged the girl to “meet (the boy) in the bathroom where teachers could be positioned to ‘catch him in the act’ before anything happened.” The girl reportedly declined but later agreed. The complaint states that the girl and Simpson briefed Dunaway on the plan who “did not respond with any advice or directive.” That would seem, if true, clear negligence for a school official to be told of a student being used as bait for a possible sexual predator and not put a stop to it.
After leaving Dunaway’s office, the girl reportedly found the boy in the hallway and agreed to meet for sex. However, the boy insisted on going to the sixth-grade boy’s bathroom rather than the agreed upon boy’s bathroom on the special needs students’ corridor. No teachers were at the bathroom and, while the girl says that she tried to stall the boy, he eventually anally raped her.
The police were called and the girl (who was uncommunicative) was taken to the hospital. Prosecutors refused to bring a case because the girl was not communicative. Moreover, vice principal Terrell “testified that she didn’t know whether (the girl) had consented to the assault” after reviewing pictures from the investigation. The matter was listed by the school as merely “inappropriate touching a female in boys’ bathroom.” The brief states that Vice principal Dunaway testified that the girl was responsible for herself once she entered the bathroom.
The boy was only suspended for five days and sent to an alternative school. However, he was later allowed to return to Sparkman after about 20 days.
Even if one were to accept that the rape allegation is not proven, the negligence of the school is clear if this account is true and officials decided to use the girl as bait. The boy reportedly had a long history of sexual and other misconduct in school and Sparkman Middle School — including 15 violent or sex-related proven incidents of misconduct before the alleged rape. Given such a history, the alleged negligence of the officials is more pronounced in their response to the threat. However, the core issue of using a student as bait clearly makes this case so notable. I cannot imagine any reasoning that would justify such a decision, if it was indeed made by these officials.
The federal lawsuit was filed under Title IX in October 2010 against the boy, the three administrators, the teacher’s aide and the Madison County School Board.
In 2010, a district court judge allowed the father’s claims of state violations, including negligence, against Simpson and Dunaway, but dropped the boy from the lawsuit because he was a minor. The judge also rejected the federal claims — that the school district violated Title IX and that Simpson and school administrators deprived the girl of her civil rights.
Both sides appealed.
The Obama Administration filed in support of the family in its case against the Madison County School Board in Alabama. The case is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta will decide whether to accept the argument. It is an interesting twist for the Obama Administration, which has been successful in extinguishing dozens of public interest lawsuits attempting to sue it for various tort and constitutional violations. The Obama Administration often argues that litigants have no right to be heard on the grounds of standing in claims made against it.
June Simpson resigned shortly after the incident.
Ronnie Blair and Teresa Terrell are still principal and vice principal at Sparkman Middle School while Jeanne Dunaway is now principal at Madison County Elementary School. Things are less rosy for the girl who withdrew from Sparkman Middle School went to live with her mother in North Carolina. After her mother died soon after, the girl and her brother were placed with Child Protective Services in North Carolina.