Editorial: FCPS should protect its students and not itself


The Hawk Talk Staff

Voices Silenced by FCPS

After eight years of silence, a Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) graduate brought a sexual assualt case against the very organization that should have protected her: the Fairfax County School Board. Under the pseudonym Jane Doe, she addressed the sexual assault and abuse she endured from October 2011 to February 2012. 

At that time, she was a seventh grader at Rachel Carson Middle School. Doe explained that at the age of 12 she was repeatedly “raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, terrorized, extorted, bullied and threatened with death by other students.” She reported this to school administrators numerous times, but they ignored her claims and even said it was her fault that she was treated that way.

Doe filed her case on July 12, 2019, claiming that the defendants, the Fairfax County School Board and her former classmates, violated her rights under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. In response to this, the school board did not bother trying to defend itself and instead argued on procedural technicalities. 

The school board said that according to Va. law, Doe should have filed the case within two years of her 18th birthday, which she did. They then argued that she did not ask for permission to use a pseudonym during that time period. The school board filed motions to dismiss the case based on this, but the courts refused and let Doe continue by using her initials instead. 

This is not the only sexual assault allegation against FCPS. This second case is a bit closer to home and could soon be making its way to the Supreme Court. A 16-year-old Oakton High School student also under the pseudonym of Jane Doe was sexually assaulted on the first night of a five-day long school band trip. Similar to the aforementioned case, the high school officials responded with ignorance and gaslighting. At least two students reported the assault, but Oakton ignored it for the rest of the trip. 

Once they returned to school, FCPS employees finally addressed Doe by interrogating her with victim-blaming questions and discouraging her from contacting the police. They told Doe that she could be disciplined for what had happened. All of this was done without informing Doe’s parents.

Doe was fed up with the treatment and on May 23, 2018, she took it to court. The case has travelled up through the court system arguing on the topic of Title IX, a law that prohibits gender-based discrimination in any education program. This legislation is mostly known in the sports world, but also covers sexual harassment. Now, FCPS intends to reach the Supreme Court and redefine the law.

FCPS Needs to Be Held Accountable

Sexual assault is one of the worst crimes you can commit, but somehow this especially gender-based crime still seems to invoke debate. You have an attacker, typically a male, and a victim, typically a woman. People ask questions of the victim’s integrity: “Have they been assaulted before? What are the reasons that they would lie?” The accuser is often defended: “He’s never done anything like this before! I know him, he’s a good guy. He’d never mistreat a woman.” Even when the victim is especially helpless, like if they are in a public location. 

If this action takes place under an organization’s purview, they should devote their resources to helping the victim and then making sure nothing similar ever happens again. One would think that the school or school system in which this act took place would intervene, protecting the victim and condemning the rapist. One would think. 

But FCPS and Oakton High School did not think. The Oakton administration attempted to cover it up. When they could not do that, they tried to block the trial in court. Behavior like this from an organization whose mission statement is to provide a safe place for education is reprehensible and foul.

Now, FCPS is trying to take their case to the Supreme Court. They are investing a great deal of time and money into prolonging a rape victim’s pain. If they succeed, Title IX could be changed forever. The law prevents victims of sexual harrassment and abuse from being discriminated against, threatened, intimidated, or coerced (U.S. Department of Education). The landmark civil rights case would be opened to stripping of the improvements it pioneered, and public school administrations could very well feel emboldened to take those offensive actions against their students. Schools across the country would feel the impact of one reckless decision, a decision that could easily be avoided if FCPS does not send their appeal to the Supreme Court.

A staggering amount of Madison students agree with The Hawk Talk: 93.4% of students surveyed believe that schools should be held accountable for sexual assault that takes place in school or on school trips. 

“Yes, I do believe they should be held accountable,” Will Engleman (’23) said. “It’s just like if a fight happens at a school bus stop; it is still their jurisdiction.”

It should not be surprising that members of an organization want that organization to protect them. Regardless of maturity levels, almost all Madison students are minors while all staff members are adults. Imagine if one of our peers was sexually assaulted and our administration knew about it, but then nothing happened. The people who are supposed to look after us would only be looking after themselves. Those Oakton students do not have to imagine it. Instead of any sort of supportive action being taken, only actions of the defensive kind were. FCPS is now trying to go as far as to change one of the most important laws in the country just to cover their tracks and feign ignorance.