UPDATE: The Seattle School Board addressed the issue of the Garfield rape at its meeting Wednesday, while the interim superintendent issued a letter on the issue to the community (jump to the end of the story for the entire letter)
A federal investigation into the Seattle School District’s handling of an alleged rape during a Garfield High School field trip continues.
The incident happened in November of 2012, when the 15-year-old girl and nearly 30 other students attended an overnight nature camp in the Olympic National Park.
The girl immediately reported the attack and was hospitalized with injuries and symptoms that medical records and a hospital rape advocate characterized as “consistent with rape.”
The victim initially told investigators a stranger had come into her bunk in the middle of the night, then later admitted she had sneaked into an adjoining cabin with other girls where the attacker allegedly raped her. Her changed story would later be used to discredit her.
“There was no doubt that he raped our daughter,” says her mother – who we’re calling Mrs. Miller to protect the family’s identity – in an interview. “He admitted even to the principal, even when he rolled in with the bus, that our daughter told him to stop, and we know that from the district’s own investigation.”
But Miller says that investigation didn’t happen for nearly six months, and only after the family spent hundreds of hours gathering records and pushing school and district officials to investigate.
After a federal criminal investigation, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle determined there was not enough evidence to file charges.
“Our daughter sustained a devastating, life-scarring trauma which has completely demolished our family life,” Miller says. “These are very difficult things to prosecute, but that doesn’t mean that a rape didn’t occur. And we have that written from the Chief Ranger who was overseeing the investigation.”
The family tried to quickly get her back into school, but worried her attacker’s presence would be too traumatic for the girl. She suffered debilitating emotional damage that ultimately led to hospitalization, never returning to Garfield, where she excelled in music and academics. The family ultimately moved out of the state.
Miller says the district failed to launch a prompt investigation and take steps required by the federal Title IX act to protect victims of sexual harassment or assault – as required by law of any college or secondary school that takes federal funds.
She says her family only learned about Title IX months later after filing a complaint with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The family subsequently discovered, through public records requests, that the district was seemingly “ignorant” of Title IX or ignored it completely. While the district does have a designated Title IX officer, Miller says the files are “completely empty” and accuses the district of turning a blind eye to other sexual assaults.
“There have been numerous cases of sexual assault in the Seattle School District,” Miller says. “Victims have come forward and reported their assaults to us. But the Title IX officer never fulfilled his duty to investigate those.”
Last month, the U.S. Department of Education began investigating the district for violating Title IX sexual violence provisions.
It’s a problem that seemingly extends far beyond Garfield or the Seattle School District. Seattle is one of 23 elementary and secondary school districts currently under investigation, according to an extensive report on the alleged Garfield rape by Al Jazeera.
The Seattle School District has refused to comment on the allegations and investigation, but did issue the following statement to KING 5 in July:
We take the issue of sexual assault seriously and are continuing to work with all parties involved – including state and federal agencies and the family – to address the concerns that have been raised and ensure that the appropriate legal process is followed. The family has filed complaints with several oversight agencies, and we trust that resolution of those actions will be fair and equitable.
-This incident occurred in November 2012, and law enforcement authorities were immediately called. They investigated but did not file charges.
-Parents asked SPS to investigate and we did. Based on the investigator’s report, Superintendent concluded the evidence did not support an assault.
-Parents appealed to School Board, which affirmed Superintendent’s decision.
-The parents have filed complaints with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, U.S. Department of Education and Puget Sound Educational Services District, all of which are still pending.
-Because this is a pending legal matter and it involves students, there isn’t anything else we can say.
But the family and their supporters won’t be silenced. They’ve formed a new organization called “Stop Sexual Assault in High School” and picketed Wednesday’s school board meeting. They’re demanding numerous changes in district policies and procedures they say could have prevented the girl’s rape and what Miller calls the “whitewashing” of the investigation.
But Miller says after the devastation of their ordeal, her goal is to also build a national movement to shine the spotlight on such a widespread problem and help prevent it from happening to others.
“That’s happening because so many people are outraged,” she says of the significant attention the group has received in just the past few weeks.
Here is the letter to the community on the Garfield field trip rape:
The incident reported after a 2012 Garfield High School field trip is of concern to us all. We would each be deeply shaken if our child was involved in such an incident. While we cannot undo that event, we can learn from it and take steps to increase the safety for our students.
We will continue to work together to support student safety both on and off school grounds. We support Ted Howard in his leadership as principal of Garfield High School.
As background regarding this incident:
• The FBI and the National Parks Service immediately investigated the incident.
• Based on the investigation, the U.S. Attorney did not file any charges.
• The District also investigated and found the facts to be inconclusive.
We can and will, however, continue to learn from this incident. As a result of this incident the District has:
• Established a Critical Incident Response Plan and trained administrators in how to respond to issues such as this.
• Reviewed and improved our training, field trip and chaperoning practices.
• Trained administrators in appropriate responses to critical incidents such as this.
We will be reporting to the School Board Operations Committee tomorrow on all incidents involving students the past year. We are also working with the Office of Civil Rights and will give careful consideration to their recommendations for improvements in our compliance to ensure that we are clear and current in our efforts to protect student safety. I have asked a senior management working group to review all processes related to the requirements of Title IX on sexual harassment to improve our notices, training, investigation practices, compliance actions, and remedies for victims of sexual harassment.
Ted Howard, principal at Garfield High School, is equally concerned about this issue and is also committed to learning from this incident to improve safety for our students. Given this experience, he and the Garfield staff are now even more aware, knowledgeable and committed to enforcing our field trip policies rigorously.
We will also do everything possible to prevent harassment, intimidation, or bullying of all students including any retaliation toward any of the parties involved in this incident.
Dr. Larry Nyland
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