NATIONAL NEWS

Judge rejects school system’s request to toss out long-running sex-assault lawsuit

Jan 31, 2024, 9:05 AM

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a request by Virginia’s largest school system to toss out a lawsuit accusing it of indifference to a middle school student’s claims of sexual abuse and harassment.

The Fairfax County School Board filed a motion in November asking to dismiss the long-running suit, saying it had uncovered evidence that the former middle schooler had fabricated allegations that she was raped and sexually abused by classmates inside and outside of the school.

In a recently unsealed order, however, U.S. District Court Judge Rossie Alston said the school system “overreached” in seeking dismissal at this stage based on a claim of fraud upon the court.

Alston said the Facebook messages that the school system says are proof of the plaintiff’s lies haven’t been authenticated. And as a legal matter, Alston said that even if the student lied about what happened to her, that alone wouldn’t be sufficient to toss out the lawsuit before it can be tried before a jury.

The middle schooler who raised the allegations in 2011 is now 24, and is not identified by name in court documents. Her allegations were the basis of a 2014 settlement between the school system and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights over her accusations that the district failed to adequately investigate her complaint.

In 2019, she filed a civil lawsuit against the school board and two of her alleged attackers, among others. The case has been locked in contentious legal wrangling ever since.

The student alleges she was sexually assaulted multiple times, and was even gang raped in a utility closet in 2012. She alleges that the attacks escalated while teachers, counselors and administrators ignored her complaints of mistreatment.

The school board filed its motion to dismiss based on fraud after finding Facebook messages between the student and a classmate alleged to be one of her principal attackers. They say the messages show that the two were actually boyfriend and girlfriend and that the girl had sought out sexual contact with him during a period of time in which she alleged he had been raping and threatening her.

Alston, in his ruling which was unsealed last week, said there is no proof at this point that the Facebook messages are authentic. The judge noted that the school system found them late in the discovery process. The allegedly incriminating messages also come from an account only identified as “Facebook User.”

The school board counters that the messages will be easy to authenticate and that the context of the messages makes clear they were sent by the plaintiff.

The lawsuit, which is scheduled to go to trial in March, is one of several cases the school system has battled in recent years, racking up millions in legal fees.

The cases, and similar accusations in neighboring Loudoun County, have drawn scrutiny, as Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has faulted local school systems for their handling of sexual assault accusations.

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