Thursday, March 15, 2007

Seattle School District Not Indifferent to Sexual Abuse

A federal district court in Washington recently dismissed claims that the Seattle School District No. 1 violated a female elementary student's rights under the Constitution and Title IX by not protecting her from the predatory advances of a male teacher.

The school district's liability for either a constitutional or Title IX violation both turn on whether the school district knew or had reason to know, and was deliberately indifferent about, the abuse that was going on. The court's decision affirms that a teacher's inappropriate behavior must be very obvious in order to put the school district on notice:
Here, there is nothing to suggest that there was an obvious need for the school to take different action to protect identifiable constitutional rights. Several of the teachers testified that while they witnessed Mr. Hill with his female students sitting on his lap, they did not directly report such behavior to the administration or did not become immediately concerned. . . .

Mr. Langston stated that he witnessed Mr. Hill inappropriately touching female students on several occasions, but did not think much of it at the time, and finally reported it to Mr. Packer [the principal] during a conversation pertaining to his own inappropriate behavior. These teachers also characterized Mr. Hill's actions as subtle, and all believed the appropriate step was to inform the administration rather than make a CPS report themselves.
Upon learning that a teacher was engaged in "inappropriate touching" and was letting students sit on his lap, the principal and vice-principal responded by talking to to that teacher "about appropriate boundaries." The court deemed this to be a sufficient response to protect the school district from liability.

The case is: B.E.S. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 2007 WL 710095 (W.D. Wash. Mar 06, 2007).

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