Legal Services NYC announced a settlement Tuesday with the NYC Department of Education (DOE) requiring the agency to make landmark changes to sexual assault policies and regulations.
In addition to paying $700,000 in damages to four student survivors of sexual assault, the DOE is required to make reporting and investigation processes transparent to students and parents, create new processes to make it easier for students to make reports and escalate complaints, train staff on new and existing policies, and strengthen special education supports for students impacted by sexual assault and trauma.
The settlement follows a 2019 lawsuit filed by Legal Services NYC alleging the city DOE violated Title IX by repeatedly ignoring reports of sexual assaults and harassment by four female middle and high school students of color with disabilities, two of whom reported being raped.
Two of the four plaintiffs, Lisa Doe and Jane Doe, are from the Bronx.
“This settlement makes me feel like I was heard,” Lisa Doe said. “Because we spoke out, they agreed to make changes within the DOE towards how they will manage sexual harassment and respond when it impacts a student’s life inside and outside of schools. I hope that these changes will make the students in the city feel more protected, comfortable, and understood when they go through a situation that impact their life in a negative way. I hope that these policies help them feel they can come forward, speak to an authority about what’s making them uncomfortable, uneasy, or unsafe, and get help for their particular situation.”
Specifically, the settlement requires the DOE to:
- Create a process for parents to escalate complaints when they believe schools are not providing necessary supports or interventions after they file initial complaints.
- Update safety transfer policies to expedite safety transfers for cases involving harassment and/or assault.
- Update Chancellor Regulations to spell out how investigations should be conducted following an incident, supportive measures that must be provided, and the notification process to parents.
- Create a separate Complaint/Reporting Form for students that makes it easier for them to understand and fill out the form and a new FAQ for parents and students about how to report and file complaints, and actions DOE must take to prevent assaults and harassment.
- Develop a guide for teachers, principals and staff on how trauma can impact learning, and how IEP teams should assess the impact of traumatic incidents or experiences in the special education process.
“For too long, students reporting harassment and discrimination have felt their claims were dismissed or ignored,” said Amy Leipziger, a senior staff attorney at Legal Services NYC involved in the case.“This settlement is an important step in both recognizing the harm caused by gender-based violence in schools and creating much-needed accountability for school districts to address the traumatic impact of sexual violence and harassment in our schools.”
Legal Services NYC, the largest provider of free civil legal service in the country, filed suit against the city DOE in 2019 after it discovered that multiple students with disabilities’ reports of gender-based violence and harassment were repeatedly ignored and mishandled by their schools and whose right to meaningful educational progress was unlawfully thwarted by the schools’ inaction.
Two of the students, ages 12 and 14, were raped by classmates, and the other two students, ages 13 and 18, suffered repeated verbal taunts, groping and sexual assault by their classmates. All four students reported the incidents to their schools and in each case, the school failed them.
Jane Doe, 14, is in eighth grade at M.S. 223, 360 E. 145th St. When she was in the sixth grade at I.S. 584 she suffered gender-based violence for two years. Jane Doe has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a learning disability and a language disorder.
During the 2016-2017 school year once per day during September and October, G.K., a fellow sixth-grader, grabbed Jane Doe’s butt. This made her feel uncomfortable and upset.
In October 2016, Jane Doe’s mother filed a complaint with the 40th Precinct and the school. The principal informed her mom the student was suspended, but the school did not provide information or training for students or parents on bullying and sexual harassment.
In 2017, G.K. again sexually harassed her and even tried to kiss her. The school did not investigate.
Then in the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year G.K. allegedly raped Jane Doe in a stairwell at the school. She filed a complaint with the school, yet the school did not investigate.
Word around school spread about her assault and she was called a “ho.” This affected her emotionally and her grades began to suffer.
Finally on Oct. 19, 2018, Jane Doe told her mom that G.K. raped her. Three days later her mom went to the school about the assault, but never heard from them again.
The school did not investigate nor did it keep G.K. away from her.
Since the rape and harassment, her grades and emotional well-being have suffered.
Lisa Doe, 18, is a senior at Harry S. Truman High School, 750 Baychester Ave. When she began the 2018-2019 school year and was attending Exploration Academy High School, she suffered gender-based violence. Lisa Doe has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
On Sept. 25, 2018, A.C., a 10th grade female student came up behind Doe wrapped her arms around her and touched her vagina. Doe pushed away and told her she did not like to be touched that way.
The next day A.C. approached her and touched her breasts. Again, Doe told her she did not like that.
On Sept., 27, 2018, Doe filed a complaint with the principal about the incidents.
School officials did not protect Doe and never provided information or training for students or parents on bullying and sexual harassment.
A.C. was eventually suspended for harassing multiple students, but anytime Doe saw her she felt nervous.
During her suspension, while at a public bus stop A.C. assaulted Doe and her sister and blamed Doe for her suspension.
Doe met with school officials the next day about the assault and they laughed at her and did not believe her. Somehow Doe was suspended for when she was assaulted.
After the school denied her request to transfer, Doe and her mom went to the Department of Education in November and they granted it.