Time to Bring the Hammer, Right LCPS Parents? Federal Appeals Court Allows Child Sex Abuse Case Against FCPS Administrators to Continue
Parents, ensure LCPS is not left out of this. Tuscarora HS and many others in LCPS practice in deception and coverup. Hold them accountable.
Ruling against Fairfax County Public School’s effort to silence survivors and roll back victims’ rights
Last week, a federal appeals court ruled against Fairfax County Public schools (FCPS) and in favor of a plaintiff who alleged that she was sexually abused and gang raped at Rachel Carson Middle School in Herndon, when she was just 12- years-old. The suit asserts that FCPS, along with several administrators and teachers, ignored and covered up the abuse for months. As a result, she suffered horrific injuries and was forced to withdraw from school. The school district previously reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) on this case, which required FCPS to revamp its policies on sexual assault, harassment, and abuse.
Fairfax County Public Schools tried to get the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that the student’s counsel did not ask the court for permission to file under a “Jane Doe” pseudonym, and thus the plaintiff did not have standing because the court could not be sure if the victim was a real person. Although the victim’s attorney ultimately did ask the court for permission for his client to proceed as “Jane Doe,” FCPS argued that by that point, the statute of limitations had passed, and that since it was a public school, it was exempt from Virginia’s 20-year statute of limitations for child sex abuse.
Interestingly, FCPS never had a problem with pseudonyms when perpetrators of sexual violence asked for a pseudonym, according to Shatter the Silence FCPS. “The same lawyers behind this appeal, Soni Tewari and Stuart Raphael, agreed to let a perpetrator use a pseudonym without issue. (see Order, Doe v. FCSB, No. 19-cv-65, ECF 39, at 1 (E.D. Va. Apr. 18, 2019),” said Shatter the Silence. “But when a survivor wanted to use one, they billed taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars taking this case to a federal appeals court, which could have created terrible precedent for all survivors.
The 4th Circuit Court rejected FCPS’s argument handedly. “There is nothing in her complaint to suggest that what [the survivor] alleged was fictitious,” said Judge Paul Niemeyer, a Bush appointee, writing for the court in the official opinion.
The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), along with 51 other civil rights organizations, submitted an Amicus Brief supporting the survivor’s right to bring suit. “Courts Should Not Dismiss Sexual Assault Survivors’ Lawsuits Based on Unwritten Procedural Technicalities,” wrote NWLC’s Elizabeth Tang in a blog post earlier this year. “Survivors should never have to choose between protecting their privacy or seeking justice,” she said.
This ruling comes as the latest blow against Fairfax County Public Schools, which has suffered numerous set-backs in the past two years in its efforts to cover up child sexual abuse and harassment, according to a grassroots, non-partisan, nonprofit organization, Shatter the Silence Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). As Shatter the Silence FCPS points out, earlier this year, the same federal appeals court ruled against FCPS in the alleged mishandling of a sexual assault at Oakton High School, ruling “a jury could reasonably conclude that school officials improperly trivialized and dismissed the reports of sexual assault.”
“This is a huge win for survivors, and the latest blow to FCPS’s on-going effort to silence and intimidate victims of sexual violence and other civil rights violations (a list of violations is available at our website),” said Shatter the Silence FCPS officials. “ FCPS advanced a ludicrous interpretation of the law which would have made it more difficult for victims of sexual violence to file lawsuits under a Jane Doe pseudonym. In past cases, FCPS lawyer Stuart Raphael gratuitously described sexual assaults in official court filings. If FCPS had its way, it would have forced victims to choose between having their sexual assaults graphically described, where they would live online for employers, neighbors, partners, etc. to see, or simply not be able to seek justice and accountability.”
Unhappy with this ruling, FCPS is currently petitioning the Supreme Court to take the Oakton High School case. If FCPS prevails, Title IX, the primary law that protects students from sexual harassment, assault, and abuse, could be entirely gutted. FCPS’s proposed interpretation of Title IX will allow schools to “bury their heads in the sand rather than investigating and taking appropriate action,” wrote the National Women’s Law Center in an Amicus Brief.
In addition to the two law suits, FCPS currently has three outstanding investigations with the OCR for its handling of child sex abuse and harassment. It also has a number of recent settlements with OCR, including a December 2020 settlement reached after female basketball players were cut from the team after telling their principal, Dave Thomas, that a coach was sexually harassing them, leading to Thomas retiring in disgrace. In 2020, two separate principals, Yusef Azimi and Scott Bloom, were arrested for failing to report child abuse, a misdemeanor in Virginia. Despite these actions, Instagram pages still show students anonymously detailing their harassment and abuse in Fairfax County schools with administrators failing to take appropriate action.
While it’s hard to tell how much all of this has cost taxpayers, FCPS hired Hunton Andrews, a powerful and politically-connected law firm to defend itself in many of these cases. In the past three years, FCPS has paid Hunton Andrews more than $9 million. When parents recently filed a FOIA request asking for the invoices, FCPS, through its Hunton Andrews lawyers Ryan Bates, Sona Rewari, and Albert Lin, filed a lawsuit against moms Debra Tisler and Callie Oettinger. Represented by the Goldwater Institute, they claim that the school district is “aggressively persecuting parents” who are “trying to promote the best interest of their children.”
“Unfortunately, their past conduct, including in this appeal, shows that they are not able to fix this issue on their own. What we consider a SLAAP lawsuit against Tisler and Oettinger, the parents of two disabled students is further evidence of FCPS’s inability to engage on civil rights issues alone and in good faith,” said Shatter the Silence FCPS. “Instead, we believe FCPS, along with their high-paid lawyers, have a track-record of bare-knuckle retaliation against anyone who speaks up against civil rights violations.”
Shatter the Silence FCPS is calling for the new Attorney General to open a civil rights investigation into Fairfax County. “We are also asking that the General Assembly pass new laws that provide schools the tools they need to prevent sexual violence and harassment and hold administrators accountable when they fail to act appropriately,” they said. “We also want new laws that prohibit school districts from paying big law $700 an hour filing baseless appeals and trying to silence survivors.”
Shatter the Silence FCPS is a grassroots, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization founded by former and current FCPS students and parents. For years, Fairfax County Public Schools have covered up a hidden epidemic of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, discrimination, and human trafficking in their schools. Our organization demands that FCPS stop spending millions on taxpayer money trying to gut Title IX and silence survivors. Instead, it needs to recognize its obligation to keep students safe from sexual harassment, abuse, and discrimination and enact meaningful reform to accomplish this.