The plaintiffs continued building their case Tuesday in the instance of a student at Lewisville ISD who is suing the school for Title IX violations. The girl was 14 years old when she said she went to a high school party and got sexually assaulted by two high school football players at Hebron, a school in the Lewisville district.
The case going on at the Chase Bank building in Sherman with federal Judge Ron Clark presiding is about the way the school reacted or failed to react to the allegations the girl made.
Title IX law prohibits institutions that receive federal funding from discriminating against anyone based on gender.
The suit says the district acted with indifference toward the then-young girl’s claims that she was sexually assaulted by two football players. The Herald Democrat is not naming the girl involved because alleged victims of sexual assault are generally not named in coverage. The two young men are not being identified because they were juveniles when the alleged incident occurred and they were never charged with any crime related to the incident.
The fact that the boys were never charged is really not an issue in the case at hand, but the way the school district treated the boys is. On the stand for hours over the past two days, the girl’s father repeatedly broke down in tears in talking about the pain and suffering his daughter endured. He said a bright vivacious girl who loved to sing and to go to school instantly turned into a person who couldn’t get out of bed and fought to stay home from school. Prior testimony revealed she had gone to school the week after the assault took place but faced such extreme bullying from schoolmates that she finally broke down and told her mother she was being picked on. Concerned for her daughter, the mother called a school counselor seeking guidance about the bullying.
The girl, however, did not tell her parents the exact nature of the bullying. Her mother found out about the sexual assault while working the concession stand at a football game the following week.
Guidance counselor’s response
Then both parents met with the guidance counselor after reporting the sexual assault to the Carrollton police. The father testified that the counselor urged them not to take their allegations against the football players forward telling them they have no idea how ugly that situation could get.
The father said he was dumbfounded that the counselor’s first thoughts seemed to be about the boys involved in the case and not his daughter. He said the counselor made the remark a couple of times in a couple of different ways so he took it to be her primary concern. He said the family went to the school expecting to see the boys investigated, instead it seemed everyone was concentrating on removing his daughter from the school.
The father said they had barely returned home from the visit when they received a fax giving them schools to which their daughter could transfer if she didn’t want to continue to go to Hebron.
A father’s anguish
The father said they couldn’t understand why their daughter should have to give up her school where she was on the cheerleading squad while the boys who had assaulted her were allowed to remain at the school and on the football team. He described how hard she had worked taking gymnastics classes to get on the cheer squad and how much joy she took in the sport. He said if they moved her to another school, she wouldn’t be on that squad. So she would be punished, not the boys.
He said the district did nothing to investigate the boys or the allegations. He also said the district pushed to get his daughter to return to school even though she was being harassed on social media. During opening statements, attorney Chris Payne had told the jury the young girl was called a “whore” and a “slut” on social media and had to read about people questioning if she got pregnant as a result of the assault whether it would be a black baby or a Hispanic baby. The girl’s father said the district never offered her the option of going on homebound status until after a doctor told them about it and that the district balked at the idea but kept pressuring the parents about truancy rules that might kick in if she continued to be absent. He said despite their assurances to the contrary, the district didn’t start an investigation into their daughter’s allegations until the family hired an attorney.
Attorney Stephen Henniger, who represents the district, walked the girl’s father through a number of emails he sent to district staff who worked with his daughter during the months following the alleged assault. In those emails, the father praised various district staff members for their help with his daughter’s situation. Henniger asked which was it? Was the staff retaliating against his daughter by giving her extra work and riding her to get the work done and to return to school or were they being helpful and caring?
The father said he believed the school district personnel when they told the family that they cared about the girl and were doing what they could to help her.
“That naive person no longer exists,” he said of the person he was when he wrote those emails.
Some of the emails Henniger showed the father were from instructors who were talking about reducing the course work that they required of the girl in order to help her complete her ninth grade year. The father admitted that the district did make some concessions throughout the ordeal. When Henniger asked why the family never took its complaints to the school board, the father said he didn’t know anything about school boards. He said he didn’t know that there was a board that held any power over districts. He figured dealing with principals and administrators was enough. As Henninger’s questions grew more pointed, the father imploded.
“Why am I wrong for believing in this people?” he said.
Guidance counselor testimony
The day’s other major witness also broke down on the stand a number of times. One of the major allegations of the girl’s case is that the school district was immediately concerned with the boys who were alleged to have commited the assault and not the girl who had been assaulted. The first person pointed to in proof of that is the guidance counselor to whom the family reported both the bullying and the alleged assault. That woman, Debra Whitehead, flat out refuted the claim that she said anything to the family about not going up against the football team.
Whitehead said she felt for the girl from the instant the parents mentioned the sexual assault. Whitehead said she believes the girl was assaulted. She said she did recognize the name of one of the boys that they said committed the assault and she knew he was on the football team. Whitehead is no longer with the Hebron school district. She said she took a job in another city to be closer to her husband who is completing his education.
On of the plantiff’s attorneys, Charla Aldous, walked Whitehead back over some ground that had already been covered about how the district came to know about the alleged assault and bullying. Whitehead said the girl’s mother did call her and they talked about the fact that the mother thought her daughter’s radical change in behavior was a sign that she was being bullied. However, Whitehead said she didn’t open an investigation into the bullying because the mother didn’t know who it was that might be bullying her daughter. She said she planned to interview the girl the next day but she wasn’t at school. Whitehead said the next day the girl was at school, her mother sent an email asking that she not be interviewed because she was having a good day. The girl never returned to the school, the counselor said, so she never interviewed her.
Aldous then asked whether it weren’t still Whitehead’s responsibility under Title IX to open an investigation into the alleged bullying. Whitehead contended there was nothing, at that point, to investigate. She said her heart went out to the little girl and she wanted to help but she didn’t have anything to go on. When asked about the allegations that she tried to get the girl to switch schools, the counselor said the family took that all wrong. She said they were determined that their daughter would not go to school with her alleged attackers and she knew that the district couldn’t force the boys to leave the school without criminal charges so she sent them a list of places they could transfer their daughter so she could continue her education without having to see the boys who tormented her.
The school, Aldous pointed out, had a document that they could have used to do something with the boys if they had wanted to do so. The code of conduct for extracurricular activities, she said, would have allowed the boys to have been punished for drinking at the party.
As the two went back and forth over what the school could have done and what was done and when it was done and why, both Aldous and Whitehead appeared to grow more upset. Aldous practically screamed questions at the witness before apologizing. She said the LISD has said that they didn’t do an investigation into the rape allegations because the police told them not to, but no one told them not to do what they should have done under Title IX and investigate the bullying. And Whitehead sobbed that she never would have done anything to hurt the girl because she knows what it is like to be assaulted.
Whitehead said she was very concerned that the girl might not only have been assaulted but that she might lose all of the hard work she had put into her academic work as well. She said she didn’t know that one of the boys who was accused of the sexual assault had come to school afterwards wearing shorts with blood on them and telling people that blood came from his taking the girl’s virginity.
The case will continue Wednesday.