Civil Rights

School District May Be Liable for 4th Grade Student's Sexual Assault, Court Rules

A school district may be liable for failing to protect a fourth-grade student from a sexual assault by a man who checked her out of school without authorization, a federal appeals court has held.

The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in an Aug. 5 ruling (PDF), said that the school district had a special relationship with the student during the school day and had a duty to protect her from the man who signed her out of school by posing as her father, according to Education Week’s School Law blog.

The suit, which had been dismissed by a federal court judge in Mississippi, alleges that the Covington County, Miss., school district violated the girl’s substantive due process rights by being deliberately indifferent to her safety.

The appeals court ordered the trial court to re-examine whether the allegations are true.

The suit, filed on behalf of a student identified as Jane Doe, alleges that on six occasions during the 2007-2008 school year, the school released the girl to a man claiming to be her father, who took her from the school and sexually assaulted her. The man is now serving a 10-year prison sentence for the assaults.

The district had a compulsory check-out policy requiring parents to fill out a form listing adults who were authorized to check out their children. The man in question was not on the list.

In its decision, the appeals court said that while compulsory attendance laws do not by themselves create a special relationship between schools and children, the age of the girl and the school’s alleged failure to comply with its own check-out policy created such a relationship.

“The school’s deliberate indifference as exhibited in its maladministration of its own check-out policy directly and actively created a known substantial risk to Jane’s safety—which tragically materialized into her repeated sexual abuse,” the court wrote.

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