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US: District Didn’t Properly Probe Sex Assault Claims

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GRAND RAPIDS (AP) - A school district failed to properly investigate allegations by two students that they were sexually assaulted at their Grand Rapids-area high school, the U.S. Department of Education said.

The department’s Office of Civil Rights found that Forest Hills Public Schools’ procedures for responding to sex discrimination weren’t effective and didn’t comply with Title IX, the statute designed to prevent students from discrimination based on their gender.

Forest Hills neglected to investigate most of the claims by one of the students and her parents, who said the girl was repeatedly harassed in school as retaliation after the 2010 assault, according to the Education Department report, which described how the 15-year-old girl was shoved in school hallways, bullied online and taunted at sporting events.

She stopped participating in after-school sports and eventually left Central High School, her attorneys said.

The girls said they were sexually assaulted by the same person – one in a school band room and the other in a school parking lot.

“Within two weeks of the initial complaint of sexual harassment, a second incident involving the same alleged harasser was reported by another female student, but the district did not consider this information in determining whether or not a hostile environment existed in the school and did not take steps to investigate the incident,” the Department of Education report said.

The then-15-year-old girl filed a federal lawsuit last month against the Forest Hills school district, Superintendent Daniel Behm and others.

The federal report gave an incomplete picture of what happened, Behm told The Grand Rapids Press in a story published Wednesday.

Behm said attorneys for the school district were preparing a response to the teenager’s lawsuit and that he was unable to discuss details with the case pending and because of privacy laws protecting students.

“The only thing I would say about the report is, the Office of Civil Rights never interviewed our Title IX coordinator and they never interviewed me,” he said. “We certainly played a role in making decisions about the whole matter – we played a significant role.”

The student accused of attacking the 15-year-old girl in the band room more than two years ago was convicted as a juvenile of misdemeanor assault and battery. A few weeks after the attack, another student reported that the same person forcibly groped her inside a car in the school parking lot. She eventually dropped her complaint.

As part of a resolution agreement with the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the Forest Hills district has agreed to reimburse the girl who filed charges for counseling; pay for her transportation costs after she left for another school; and hold a community meeting to share updates to the district’s anti-harassment program.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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