11th Circuit rules victim in rape bait case can sue school board

Should school officials be held responsible if they use your daughter for rape bait and she is attacked? An 11th Circuit ruling this week may let us find out.

Middle school officials in Alabama decided to use a 14-year-old special education student as bait to try to catch another eighth grader in the act of sexual harassment. They sent her to meet the boy in a school bathroom, where she was sodomized and was left so traumatized she could barely communicate. The district provided her with no help to deal with the trauma, and she later transferred to a school in another state. Meanwhile, her attacker was sent, for weeks, to an alternative school, but then was returned to the middle school.

Those are key details in a lawsuit filed by the victim’s father against an Alabama school board and officials at the middle school.

A federal district court in Alabama threw out most of the claims, but this week the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed key parts of that ruling. As a result, the victim will be able to pursue her claims against the school board and various school officials.

Elbert P. Tuttle Courthouse in Atlanta

Federal courthouse in Atlanta

A reasonable jury, the justices wrote, could conclude that an aide who devised the bait scheme should have known that emotional distress was the likely result of her decision to send the girl into the bathroom alone with boy to try to catch him in the act. Likewise, a jury might say the aide also had plenty of evidence that the male student, CJC, posed a real danger because of a litany of complaints about his sexual misconduct. The appeals court also said that the victim can pursue her case against an assistant principal who ratified the sting operation and the principal who did nothing to address the school’s sexual harassment policies after the attack.

As for the school board, the court cited a prior ruling on a case at the University of Georgia where a student was gang raped by three student athletes in a dorm room. In this case, the appeals court said, the Alabama board knew CJC’s disciplinary history; it effectively participated in the victim’s sexual harassment by setting her up in a sting operation to catch her attacker in the act and failed to change any sexual harassment policies afterward, other than to drop a one-day sexual harassment training requirement; and it allowed the attacker to return to the school The board’s failure to help the girl after she was attacked was “patently odious,” the justices wrote. A jury should decide if those facts show the board was deliberately indifferent and prevented her from continuing her education at the school. Had the girl not withdrawn from the middle school, they wrote, “she might have again been CJC’s victim.”


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