Fairfax County wants US Supreme Court to take up student’s sexual assault case

Fairfax County, Virginia’s school board is taking a student sexual assault case to the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping that its decision could change how federal law addresses a school district’s responsibility when it comes to sexual violence in schools.

Fairfax County Public Schools said in a statement it is not questioning Title IX, and “believes every student deserves an education free from harassment and discrimination,” but the school board wants the high court to weigh in on where a school district’s responsibility falls when it had no knowledge of a student’s harm and couldn’t prevent it.

The case began in 2018, when an anonymous student at Oakton High School filed a lawsuit against the school board alleging it mishandled her report that she’d been sexually assaulted on a school band trip the year before.

In 2019, a U.S. District Court jury found that the student was in fact assaulted by a classmate, but it could not find the school district liable as it didn’t have “actual knowledge” of the event. The student’s non-profit attorneys with Public Justice appealed. And in 2020, an appeals court ordered a new trial.

Instead of going that route, the school board wants the Supreme Court to decide to create uniformity in the law for schools nationwide.

“The question in this case is only about whether Congress intended America’s public schools, and the teachers that work in them, to be held financially responsible for student-on-student misconduct that they had no way to foresee and did not cause,” the school system said in a statement.

The Supreme Court docket shows it granted a motion to extend the time Public Justice has to respond until April. However, it is not an indication it will definitely take up the case.

In addition to this suit, Fairfax has four other outstanding investigations with the United States Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights for its handling of sexual assault and harassment, according to Public Justice.

It did not immediately have a response to the filing with the high court.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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