A southwestern Missouri school district has denied accusations in a federal lawsuit that officials failed to protect a middle-school girl from being raped, calling the lawsuit "frivolous" and saying the girl "neglected to use reasonable means to protect herself."
The girl, identified as a 7th grade special education student, was raped twice during the course of two school years, according to the lawsuit filed July 5 against Republic School District in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri. The lawsuit was first reported by the Springfield News-Leader newspaper in Missouri Wednesday.
A boy pleaded guilty in juvenile court to unspecified charges after the family notified police when the girl was raped a second time, the newspaper reported. The girl, her mother and the boy are identified by their initials in the lawsuit (PDF), which, like the school district's response (PDF), is available on the News-Leader's website.
Officials identified in the lawsuit are school principal Patricia Mithelavage, school counselor Joni Ragain and school resource officer Robert Duncan.
The girl was first raped at Republic Middle School in the spring of 2009, according to the lawsuit. After the mother notified the school, the girl described the rape and "multiple sexual assaults" she'd experienced at school that year to Duncan, Mithelavage and Ragain. They then told the mother that they thought that her daughter made it all up.
During subsequent meetings described in the lawsuit as "intimidating interrogations," the lawsuit says the officials told the girl that they thought she was lying about the rape. The girl's mother was later told that her daughter recanted her story during one of those meetings.
The family's lawyers note in the lawsuit that the girl's school file contains a psychological report describing her as adverse to conflict, passive and "would forego her own needs and wishes to satisfy the request of others around so that she can be accepted."
Following instructions from the school, the girl wrote an apology to the boy she accused of raping her and had to personally give it to him, according to the lawsuit. She was then expelled for the remainder of the 2008-09 school year. The school also told "juvenile authorities" that she filed a false report.
The girl returned to the middle school for the 2009-10 school year and tried to avoid the boy, according to the lawsuit. It didn't work. She was sexually assaulted again but didn't tell anyone because she was afraid of being expelled again, her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit. She was allegedly raped a second time Feb. 16, 2010.
School officials were notified of the incident and allegedly doubted the girl's claim, saying they'd "already been through this," according to the lawsuit. The girl was also examined and found to have been sexually assaulted. However, she was suspended from school for "disrespectful conduct" and "public display of affection," her lawyers wrote in the lawsuit.
The school district denies all of the family's claims, saying that if anything happened it was the "result of the negligence, carelessness, or conduct of third parties over whom the District Defendants had neither control nor the right to control."
The News-Leader reported Wednesday that local prosecutors found out about the lawsuit Monday night and were reviewing police reports to see if the school district violated any laws requiring abuse allegations to be reported to authorities.