Wild parties, an alleged rape, and a high school’s troubling response – San Francisco Chronicle

A series of high school parties hosted by a parent culminated last year with accusations of rape, child abuse and battery, upending several students’ lives and prompting a federal civil rights investigation into one of California’s wealthiest school districts. The U.S. Department of Education’s investigation centers on whether the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District failed to adequately respond to allegations that a 17-year-old student had been sexually assaulted by another student at one of the parties in September 2015 — a chaotic scene that included underage drinking, psychotropic drugs and strippers. District officials in Mountain View-Los Altos, which serves 4,200 teenagers from the two Silicon Valley cities, say they have met all their legal obligations in responding to the incident. The Mountain View-Los Altos inquiry is one of 130 investigations being conducted by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights at K-12 districts across the country following complaints of sexual violence. While public scrutiny in recent years has focused on colleges inadequately responding to reports of sexual assault, education experts say high schools have drawn far less attention, despite many districts mishandling their responsibilities. “There is an awareness that the problem exists in college, but the public still has not grasped that there’s an epidemic of sexual harassment and assault in K-12 schools,” said Esther Warkov, executive director of the national nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools. The teen who prompted the Mountain View-Los Altos inquiry said her assault occurred Sept. 12, 2015, while she was trapped in a locked bathroom at a San Jose hotel party hosted by a student’s father. School officials offered her counseling, the teen and her mother said, but at the time did not inform them about their Title IX rights, fully investigate her allegations, or provide adequate accommodations at school. The Chronicle, which reviewed the teen’s medical and police records, is not naming her because she is the victim of an alleged sexual assault. […] last year, school counselors and teachers were not told about an unrelated criminal case involving students sharing naked photos of other students online — information school staff said would have helped them support victims. Harding said all families are notified of the Title IX complaint process at the beginning of the school year — when parents sign off on an array of issues, including everything from bus safety to pesticide protections. Nonetheless, Harding added, school officials offered the teen support and accommodations that included making the school principal available to check in with her at the prom and accompany her at graduation. “No formal investigation was needed to be able to observe that the student was not subjected to school-related harassment or other inappropriate behavior as a result of the private, non-school related conduct,” he stated. The U.S. Department of Education, however, has repeatedly reminded school districts that they must investigate sexual violence allegations even if an official complaint is not filed. If a school investigates an allegation of sexual assault and determines the incident likely occurred, the accused student can be limited or barred from school functions that the other student plans to attend. “You can’t make the determination there is no hostile environment without doing an investigation,” said Karen Truszkowski, a Michigan attorney who represents students in Title IX cases. To improve compliance, the Obama administration issued a detailed guidance letter to K-12 schools in 2014, clarifying their obligations to students who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. Nearby Palo Alto Unified School District, for example, is now in settlement talks with federal officials, who found in December that the district responded improperly to repeated cases of sexual harassment and sexual violence at two high schools. In 2015, a report by the San Francisco nonprofit Equal Rights Advocates found many Bay Area high school administrators and staff — including those tasked with handling complaints — are not properly trained on their duties under Title IX, which covers federally funded education programs, including athletic activities. Mountain View-Los Altos last revised its sexual harassment policies in 1996 and 2002, despite the California School Boards Association having issued multiple updates in the last two decades that the membership organization says are important to maintaining student safety. According to the teen’s account, the evening began with a ride in Wong’s minivan with other students. Los Altos High School Principal Wynne Satterwhite expressed concern after learning of her account, giving the student her cell phone number and ensuring she had access to counseling. The stress caused her to drop a class to reduce her workload and she struggled to complete college applic

Source: Wild parties, an alleged rape, and a high school’s troubling response – San Francisco Chronicle

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