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School Violence Law Represents Georgia High School Student Suspended After Reporting Her Sexual Assault

Title IX Complaint filed due to school district’s gross mishandling of sexual assault on a freshman student.gwinnett county public schools, slate, sexual assault, high school sexual assault

The assault our client endured, and the school administration’s reaction thereafter, is chronicled by Slate contributor Nora Caplan-Bricker, in a piece entitled, My School Punished Me.”

In the gripping article (below) Caplan-Bricker discusses the complaint itself while simultaneously casting a spotlight on the larger issue of sexual assault and Title IX mismanagement occurring all too frequently in K-12 schools across the nation.

Peachtree Ridge High School is a low-slung concrete building in Suwanee, Georgia, an affluent suburb north of Atlanta. School had just gotten out on Feb. 4, 2015, and a 16-year-old sophomore was waiting just inside the main entrance for her mother to pick her up, she says, when a male classmate approached and said he wanted to show her some video equipment. She says that she followed him into the school’s newsroom, just down the hall, where he allegedly coerced her into performing oral sex.

The next morning, the female student did something unusual for a sexual assault victim: She went straight to her first-period teacher and, in tears, reported the incident. (Since both parties are minors whose names have never appeared in the press, Slate is protecting their privacy and will refer to the alleged victim by her initials, T.M.) What followed was at least as disturbing as the event she detailed, according to a legal complaint that T.M.’s family submitted to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

The Peachtree Ridge resource officer who first questioned T.M. set the tenor of the school’s investigation when he asked her to describe what she was wearing at the time of the assault, according to the complaint, which the family’s lawyers provided to Slate. The complaint says the officer also requested that she explain why she didn’t fight off her assailant: “Why didn’t you bite his penis and squeeze his balls?” he allegedly asked. (The resource officer did not respond to a request for comment, nor did other school administrators named in the complaint, or the two teachers to whom T.M. originally reported the incident.)

The complaint states that within days, T.M. and her parents were informed that she would be suspended, as would the boy, until the school could conduct a joint disciplinary hearing. There, she and the alleged perpetrator, or their legal representatives, would cross-examine each other. If T.M. couldn’t prove that what she’d experienced was assault, she would be disciplined along with the boy for engaging in sexual activity on school grounds, a violation of Peachtree’s rules.

“We begged and pleaded with the superintendent to hold the hearing for each one separately, so that it would be less traumatizing,” T.M.’s father told me. “We even considered not having her attend at all.” But not showing up would have resulted in an automatic finding of guilt. They weighed “the moral thing of what’s right—is it right to let that boy get away with it? Is it right to not try to hold the school accountable?” T.M.’s father says. “In the end, we decided, and [T.M.] decided, that she wanted to try to stand up for herself. Of course, that did no good whatsoever.”

“I really wish my school would have helped me instead of looking out for itself,” T.M. wrote to me in a statement. “The school took advantage of me, and that wasn’t fair. … The school should have pulled my attacker out of school and put him somewhere else, far away from me.”

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Lawsuit Filed on Behalf of Ooltewah High School Rape Victim

School Violence Law filed suit on behalf of the Ooltewah High School Rape Victim who was sodomized with a pool-cue by teammates.

The lawsuit, as reported by the Times Free Press, was filed in Federal court today, stating that district administrators and school employees knew a culture of abuse had been taking place for years, “and their failure to remediate this rampant abuse resulted in escalation of male student athlete’s harassment, hazing, and assaults of teammates.”

Our client’s (referred to as John Doe in the lawsuit) Title IX rights were violated, as the defendants knew violence and gender-based hazing was taking place and “created a climate in which such misconduct was tolerated, thus encouraging continued and repeated misconduct and proximately causing injury to John.

The Hamilton County Board of Education, former Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis, the school’s former Athletic Director Allard “Jesse” Nayadley and former boy’s head basketball coach Andre “Tank” Montgomery, were “reckless, grossly negligent and deliberately indifferent to the health, safety and welfare of the [victim].”

Attorneys for the victim, Douglas Fierberg and Monica Beck , along with co-counsel Eddie Schmidt, argue the Ooltewah High School Board failed to “exercise reasonable care to supervise and protect our client, and that Jarvis, Nayadley and Mongtomery’s negligent actions provided legal grounds to remove the board’s immunity.”

“Schools are required by federal and state law to prohibit violent hazing and gender-based violence,” Monica Beck said in a written statement to the Times Free Press. “This young man had a right to participate on the basketball team without sacrificing his physical and emotional safety to hazing traditions long known and tolerated by school officials.”

Fierberg Comments on DA’s Decision to Drop Two High-Profile Campus Rape Cases

Fulton County District Attorney will not bring charges against the assailants involved in campus rape cases at Morehouse College and Georgia Tech.

The three Morehouse basketball players accused of sexually assaulting a Spelman College student in March 2013 were arrested in April 2013 on various assault and rape charges, released on bond, and suspended from Morehouse while Howard’s office investigated. In the second case, Caleb Ackerman, the Georgia Tech student accused of raping an Agnes Scott College Student at his fraternity house in January 2014, was expelled from the university.

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Howard (pictured above) will not bring charges in two high-profile campus rape cases. Kent D. Johnson/Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Georgia Tech case garnered national attention, in part, because Ackerman’s fraternity, Phi Kappa Tau, drew public scrutiny after an email surfaced from one member instructing others how to lure “rapebait” by plying female guests with alcohol.

When the first victim came forward with her allegations of rape after drinking alcohol provided by Phi Kappa Tau members at their fraternity house, another Agnes Scott student followed suit, telling Georgia Tech police Ackerman had raped her in 2012 at an event held at the fraternity house. While the second women did not wish to pursue criminal charges against Ackerman, both women sued the fraternity, saying it “promoted a rampant culture of rape and misogyny.”

Attorney Douglas Fierberg, represented both women in the civil case against the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity that settled about a year ago for an undisclosed sum. Fierberg says Howard’s delay was unwarranted.

“We were able to bring a (civil) case forward, prove what needed to be proven and reach a resolution long before the state decided to move or not,” Fierberg said.

The long delay of Paul Howard’s decision – over two years – prompted complaints that both the accused and the victims were left in limbo.

“No prosecution makes no sense,” said Fierberg.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Cari Simon in Washington Post – “Biden and Obama Rewrite the Rulebook on College Sexual Assaults.”

Cari Simon’s representation of campus rape survivors featured in Washington Post article concerning the college sexual assault crisis in America.

In the wake of the Stanford University rape case, the focus on campus sexual misconduct has intensified.

Vice President Biden penned a gripping letter to the victim – “I am filled with furious anger, both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken.” The letter seemed to encapsulate the national outrage that erupted when the woman’s attacker was sentenced to just six months in county jail and simultaneously cast light on the rigorous effort of this administration to transform the way colleges and universities responded to allegations of sexual misconduct.

“The administration’s approach — through federal enforcement of civil rights protections and a campus-based advocacy campaign — was spurred in part by an emboldened group of survivors who have gone public with their complaints about their schools’ unresponsiveness. But it also reflects the activism of Biden and President Obama, who became alarmed at the idea of rape as a fixture of college life.” – The Washington Post

In 2001, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights issued guidance that sexual harassment constituted a threat to students’ ability to pursue educational opportunities.

School Violence Law attorney Cari Simon, of The Fierberg National Law Group has represented dozens of campus-assault survivors. She tells The Washington Post, aspects of the guidance, like accommodations to shield victims from subsequent harassment and trauma, are critical to avoid them going into “a downward-spiral path”.

Cari recently garnered national attention with her representation of two Kansas State University sexual assault survivors, Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer. Weckhorst and Farmer were raped at university sanctioned fraternity houses, but due to Kansas State’s refusal to investigate sexual assaults occurring off-campus, must continue to share campus with their assailants. With the help of Cari Simon, the two women are suing Kansas State University, and on Friday, the Justice Department filed two separate amicus briefs on the students’ side, arguing their Title IX suits should go forward.

Schools are legally obligated to ensure sexual violence does not undermine students’ educations, and although the federal disciplinary guidance remains controversial, the campaign for bystander intervention that the White House launched in 2014, It’s On Us, has won widespread support by encouraging victims and bystanders alike to demand more accountability from schools.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Fraternity Hazing and Sexual Assault BBC Documentary Features The Fierberg National Law Group

Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities, aired last week to audiences across Europe, garnering rave reviews.

The hour long BBC expose dives deeper into U.S. Fraternity life, narrowly debunking and greatly personifying fraternity stereotypes that exist within the minds of Europeans, and let’s be honest, (non-Greek) Americans alike.

In the midst of toga parties and binge drinking, Douglas Fierberg and Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group and School Violence Law cast a sobering light onto the common practices of hazing and sexual assault that run rampant within fraternity culture.  While our client, Terrance Bennett, bravely chronicles his experience as a Tau Kappa Epsilon (“TKE”) pledge, recalling in horrifying detail the hazing practices that led him to be hospitalized for weeks and nearly cost him his life.

“The film highlighted two disturbing statistics: that frat member students were three times more likely to commit sexual assault than non-members, and that violent initiations, known as “hazing”, have been responsible for a staggering 22 deaths in just eight years. More sinister still is that American universities have been complicit in keeping such occurrences out of the courts, and out of the news, because they receive 75 per cent of donations from fraternity members.”The Telegraph

The family of Harrison Kowiak, a 19 year old co-ed who died trying to join a fraternity, also shares their son’s story in the documentary. A football accident, his family was told, initially, took Harrison’s life.  Though, after commissioning their own investigation, Harrison’s family discovered he’d been killed during a hazing ritual in which pledge’s are taken to a desolate field in the black of night and told to capture a sacred rock while being tackled from all sides by fraternity brothers dressed in dark clothing.

Frat Boys: Inside America’s Fraternities will air in the United States Fall 2016.

Click here to read more about the BBC documentary as told by the British national daily newspaper, The Guardian.

Transgender Teen In Virginia Restroom Access Case Wins In Appeals Court

Federal Court of Appeals Rules In Favor of Transgender Student in Virginia Restroom Access Case.

Gavin Grimm sued his school in Virginia after it decided that he would not be allowed to use the boys bathroom.

virginia restroom access case, transgender, title ix
Gavin Grimm during an interview at his home in Gloucester, VA. Steve Helber/AP

Per NPR, Grimm, who was designated female but identifies as male, argued the policy violated Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any education program that gets federal funding. In 2015, the Department of Education issued a memo saying that when a school decides to treat students differently on the basis of sex, it “generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”

The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Grimm, saying that a lower court should have deferred to the federal government’s assertion that Title IX protects transgender students.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, which brought the case to court on behalf of Grimm, says this is the first time a federal court has affirmed the Title IX protects transgender students.

“Today’s Fourth Circuit decision is a vindication for Gavin and a reinforcement of the Department of Education’s policy.With this decision, we hope that schools and legislators will finally get the message that excluding transgender kids from the restrooms is unlawful sex discrimination.”  – Joshua Block, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project.

The ACLU’s official statement & press release can be viewed here.

Title IX Attorney On Good Morning America To Discuss K-State Lawsuits

Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer, alongside their Title IX attorney, Cari Simon of The Fierberg National Law Group, break their silence about K-State lawsuits in an interview with ABC News.

As School Violence Law touched on last week, attorney Cari Simon brought suit against Kansas State University on behalf of two women, claiming the school ignored their reports of being sexually assaulted.

The women filed separate federal suits against Kansas State University after university officials refused to investigate their reports of rape by fellow students because the incidents had occurred at off-campus fraternity houses.

Sara Weckhorst and Tessa Farmer told ABC’s Good Morning America in an interview Monday morning that they went public with their names because they feel they’ve done nothing wrong.

“If this is what we have to do to make sure that this doesn’t happen to a single, one more person, if this is what it takes — then that is what we have to do. It was terrifying, I am always fearful they will come back. Fear is the main thing…. The only thing I hope to gain from this is that nobody has to have the same experience as us.” Weckhorst said of the assaults. “I felt worthless and I didn’t know how to do relieve that pain, there was no closure for it,” adds Farmer.

Both women reported the sexual assaults to police and went to hospitals where rape kits were taken. Farmer and Weckhorst also reported their assaults to two different faculty members.

“I went to the offices and they gave me a lot of back and forth, and I answered a lot of questions and they told me they couldn’t investigate cause it was off campus,” Farmer said.

Both lawsuits suits cite that “under Title IX, if a student files a complaint with the school, regardless of where the conduct occurred, the school must process the complaint in accordance with its established procedures.”

“What Kansas State seems to be ignoring is that the victims of sexual violence keep feeling the effects of the assault long after the sexual assault,” – Cari Simon

ABC News reports that the president of the student body has released a public statement in support of the two students saying they respect the bravery of the women in stepping forward and that “a change needs to be made in order for all K-State students to feel taken care of and supported in all aspects concerning campus safety.”

Clark County School District Battles History of Personnel Violating Students, 5 Charged in 3 Months

Clark County School District faces increased public scrutiny as another teacher is arrested on allegations of sexual involvement with a student.

In just three months this year, from April to June, five Clark County School District personnel members have been charged. Out of the five teachers arrested, four were found to have communicated privately with students without the knowledge of their parents – boding the question, should teachers be able to text and message their students?

“Over the past 10 years, more than 30 Clark County School District employees have been arrested for alleged sexual misconduct. Six served jail time, six had charges dismissed, and the rest were given probation or have charges pending.” – The Las Vegas Sun

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5 Clark County School District teachers have been charged with sexual misconduct in the past 3 months

Experts say private contact with students often encourages and magnifies “grooming” behavior, where would-be abusers lower a student’s resistance through constant “friendly” communication.

In response to the sharp rise of these cases and the media coverage such charges inevitably brings, Clark County School District tells the Las Vegas Sun that the district is looking at ways to provide students and teachers a safer way to communicate, though they haven’t offered specifics..

“CCSD is exploring multiple technology platforms and applications that allow students and teachers to communicate in a setting that protects both the students and staff members from inappropriate and private messaging while still allowing a means for communicating critical information pertinent to academic achievement,” district spokeswoman Michelle Booth said in a statement.

Attorney Monica Beck of The Fierberg National Law Group has represented countless victims of similar circumstance in civil litigation cases garnering national attention, bringing suit on behalf of students against the schools that were supposed to protect them against predatory behavior that has become all too common. Specializing in advocating for and representing victims of sexual abuse in the K-12 school setting, Monica recently gave a presentation to the National Association of Attorneys General discussing past sexual assault cases and issues concerning investigation and response to sexual assault in elementary, middle and high schools.

Click here and here for continuing coverage on these cases as reported by the Las Vegas Sun.

Cari Simon Published in The Washington Post

Attorney Cari Simon advocates on behalf of sexual assault victims, spotlighting the academic impact of sexual violence.

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Cari begins with Deena’s* story, a young woman who was raped while attending university.

The semester Deena* was raped, her grades plummeted: She received a “D” in one course and failed another. It was the classes requiring participation in which her grades suffered the most, as some days she was too terrified to leave her dorm room, especially after running into her assailant on campus.

When Deena went to her academic dean to explain, he patronized. “Lots of students graduate with a 2.0,” he said. Sure, Deena was aware that some students did. But Deena graduated at the top of her high school class; she shouldn’t have been one of them.

Cari has worked with over a dozen campus sexual survivors and states that unfortunately, Deena’s experience is a common one – all saw their grade-point averages unfairly deflated due to sexual violence, sometimes dramatically. As one of her clients bluntly put it, “it’s as if my transcript is covered in his semen.”

These deflated GPAs have a rippling negative impact on survivor’s graduate school options and access to professional opportunities. Those lost opportunities are devastating on a micro-level — individual students miss out on what they had worked hard to achieve, Cari explains.

But the problem also has serious consequences on the macro level. It means that we as a society are losing out on the contributions that these students would have made had they been able to start off in professional careers and attend graduate schools that are reflective of their merits, not their rape.

A supportive school is well-positioned to help students like Deena, and lessen the academic impact of sexual violence.

She asserts, it is the responsibility of the school, not the student, to ensure the academic accommodation needs are met and proposes some remedial measures a school could offer to do just that:

Restore Academic Record. Where a student’s grades have already suffered because of a sexual assault, for example because the student had not yet informed the school of the assault, or the school failed to provide accommodations, schools should provide opportunities to remedy the survivor’s transcript. For example, the school could remove affected grades, allow the survivor to retake a course, replace poor grades with “passes,” or offer to attach an official addendum to transcripts explaining impacted grades.

Graduate programs. Graduate schools should invite applicants to explain low grades related to sexual violence, and provide opportunities for students to recalculate their GPA without the assault-affected grades. These efforts should be done in a manner that respects the applicant’s privacy.

Schools should make every effort to ensure that their misconduct proceedings do not to interfere with academic success. I worked with a student who was required to complete an appeal of his rape case during his exam period. His final grades that semester were the worst of his academic career. Access to campus justice should not have inversely impacted his GPA. Schools should take care not to schedule hearings during midterms or final exams.

GPA requirements. Where schools have a GPA requirement for maintaining a scholarship or participation in school programs, survivors should be offered a semester or year-long forgiveness period in which their grades would not count towards eligibility.

Warning signs. Where a student’s grades take a sudden downturn, academic deans should be on alert that the student might have experienced sexual violence-related trauma, and reach out to that student before placing her or him on academic probation.

“Survivors have gone on to achieve great successes. But they shouldn’t be handicapped by grades impacted by sexual violence. And schools can do much to prevent the academic fallout that all too often follows a sexual assault,” Simon concludes.

Click here to view The Washington Post Article

Doug Fierberg Comments On Death Of Willem Golden In delawareonline Article

Willem Golden passed away after falling from the roof at University of Delaware Sigma Pi fraternity house.

With any devastating circumstance, questions mount – how does a community prevent future tragedies and who should be held responsible?

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The rooftop Willem Golden fatally fell from, at 153 W. Main St. in Newark. Xerxes Wilson/The News Journal

University of Delaware’s unofficial Sigma Pi house offers a text-book example of potential code violations, including broken glass, dangling electric cords, and a barbecue grill strapped outside a third-story window. And while over 1,000 fraternities in the International Conference have gone dry, Sigma Pi isn’t one of them.

Douglas Fierberg – a nationally acclaimed wrongful death attorney representing clients who have sued universities, national fraternities and local chapter members for alcohol-related student deaths – tells delawareonline: 

“Even if a party is held at an off-campus unofficial fraternity house, the hosts and the organization may still be liable. These organizations need to be rendered safe, there is no excuse for not intervening.”

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Students, faculty and staff gather at Skidmore College at a memorial for Willem Golden. Eric Jenks/Skidmore College

Fierberg represented the family of Brett Griffen, the University of Delaware student who died as a result of alcohol poisoning in 2008. The Griffen’s brought suit against University of Delaware calling for its Greek life websites to list all violations against fraternities and sororities.  Despite the attainment of policy change at University of Delaware, Fierberg urges families to remain cautious:

“Colleges and universities continue to publish vague information – if they publish it at all – about fraternity interactions, including deadly hazing rituals and sexual assaults. We’re still facing significant problems because most universities refuse to tell the truth about student deaths at Greek organizations.”

School Violence Law offers our deepest condolences to the Golden family during this difficult time.

Click here to read the delawareonline article in its entirety.