Special ed student raped by classmate, forced by school to apologize to him, then raped again, lawsuit claims (UPDATED)

The Republic School District of southwestern Missouri expelled a 7th-grade special education student because they didn't believe her when she told adults at her school that a classmate raped her. School officials forced her to apologize to him, then kicked her out of school for lying. She was allowed back to school the following year, and the same boy raped her again in the school library, according to a lawsuit filed on her behalf.

From the Springfield News-Leader, the local newspaper that broke the story today:

The suit, filed July 5, alleges when the girl -- a special education student -- told officials about the harassment, assault and rape that occurred during the 2008-09 school year, they told her they did not believe her. She recanted. The suit also alleges that, without seeking her mother's permission, school officials forced the girl to write a letter of apology to the boy and personally deliver it to him. She was then expelled for the rest of the 2008-2009 school year and referred to juvenile authorities for filing a false report.

"School Officials, although mandatory reporters under Missouri's Child Abuse Reporting Law, failed to report [the girl's] complaints to the Division of Family Services or to Greene County Juvenile Authorities," the suit says.

In 2009-10, the girl was allowed back in school, and the boy continued to harass and assault her, the suit says. She did not tell school officials because she was afraid she would be accused of lying and kicked out of school. In February 2010, the boy allegedly forcibly raped the girl again, this time in the back of the school library.

School officials didn't believe her that time, either. Her mom took her to The Child Advocacy Center, and a physical examination showed that a sexual assault had occurred. The lawsuit says DNA from that test proves that the boy she claimed was her rapist was indeed her rapist.

Here's the kicker. The school district then suspended the girl again. And the district's response to the lawsuit says the officials named are not responsible for damages, because "the girl failed and neglected to use reasonable means to protect herself."

News coverage: Springfield News-Leader, CBS News, Mother Jones.

(via @lizditz, @the_hip_hapa)

Update: Thanks to all who pointed out that this appears to be the very same Missouri school district that recently banned Slaughterhouse-Five. Also, this new ABC News item adds more context about the child's initial recanting of her first rape report:

"She finally told school officials what they wanted to hear because they wouldn't believe her," the lawsuit says.

The school allegedly took no steps to investigative the claims. A psychological report in the girl's school file states that she "would forego her own needs and wishes to satisfy the requests of others around so that she can be accepted." She returned to school [the year after the first reported rape,] and despite requests from her mother to the school, extra security was not provided.

Update, 6pm PT: Following is a copy of a statement (PDF here) from Republic School District superintendent Vern Minor, issued today in response to the Springfield News-Leader story:

PUBLIC STATEMENT

The Republic R-III School District has received questions regarding a lawsuit that was filed against the district in June of 2011. The district cannot discuss confidential student matters and does not comment on pending litigation. However, the district can provide general information regarding its policies and procedures as it relates to student situations.

The district has policies that strictly prohibit and provide specific consequences for the misconduct that is described in the lawsuit. It also provides training for the entire school population about the requirements of the policies and how to prevent, and properly respond to complaints of, misconduct. The district responds immediately to reports of student misconduct and reports abuse or neglect to law enforcement officials, the Children’s Division, and any other appropriate agency. It also works cooperatively with law enforcement, social services agencies, and other appropriate agencies to investigate and make correct decisions regarding every report of misconduct. Additionally, the district provides consequences for students who engage in misconduct. It also provides additional consequences as permitted by law if criminal or juvenile charges are filed.

Finally, with respect to the specific lawsuit, it is important to remember that the allegations in a lawsuit are just that – allegations. The district has filed an answer denying the allegations. The parties will exchange information and conduct discovery regarding the allegations as required by federal procedure. It is during that process that the school district will be able to provide complete and accurate information in response to the specific allegations. However, out of respect for the privacy of students and families, that response will not occur in the media.

In the meantime, we want the Republic School Community – students, staff, parents, and patrons – to know that our schools are safe. Nothing is more important than the welfare of our students. We will continue to do everything required by law, policy, and good common sense to prevent misconduct and to respond appropriately and immediately to misconduct if it occurs. We look forward to the 2011-2012 school year and are confident that together we can create an excellent educational experience for all of our children.

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