A prestigious Pennsylvania public school is defending itself against claims it mishandled a case involving a high school student accused of sexually assaulting several female students -- allegedly even using one girl as "bait" in a sting operation.
The Upper St. Clair School District says the civil lawsuit is “without merit” and had posted a letter to concerned parents about the case -- which has since been taken down. Attorney David Barton -- representing two of the 5 girls and some of their parents -- says the school knew his clients were in danger.
On Feb. 4, 2008, a freshman special education student told her teachers at Upper St. Clair High School, voted a top school in the nation and located in a wealthy suburban enclave in Pittsburgh, that one of her classmates had been trying to touch her inappropriately, Barton said in an interview with FoxNews.com.
Barton said that same boy had already been the subject of numerous sexual harassment claims and was accused at least once of sexual assault. School officials and teachers had already attempted to discipline him by giving him detention and handing the boy pamphlets on sexual harassment awareness, the attorney said.
Barton said the teacher approached by the freshman student went to a vice principal to devise a plan to escort the girls safely to school buses at the end of the school day. The plan was nixed by the high school's principal, who wanted to keep teachers away from the area to set up a “sting” to catch students in the act, according to Barton. (At the time, Barton says the principal believed that students were having consensual sex inside the building and wanted to identify the students involved.)
The teacher was called off; the girl was allegedly raped.
“If you look at what they knew prior to decision, he [the principal] knew that this boy had sexually assaulted other girls, knew that he was making our client do other things she didn’t want to do, and he had been punished -- and he decides to do this sting operation,” Barton said. “It’s really offensive that a high school principal would use anybody’s daughter as bait.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the male student later pleaded guilty to multiple instances of sexual assault in juvenile court.
The Upper St. Clair Public School District did not return phone call requests for comment. Members of the school board did not return e-mail requests for comment.
The civil suit against the school district -- which names the students' teachers and school officials involved -- alleges a Title 9 violation in addition to the civil rights complaint.
The filings against the district also allege that it failed to report five rapes in 2008 to the state, as required by law. The statistics for that school year show no incidents of rape in the district, Barton said.
In response to these new allegations and its related news reports, the district posted a letter on its website defending itself to parents and students. The letter has since been taken down.
According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the letter read: "These (media) reports are causing some concern and generating questions regarding the civil lawsuit involving incidents that are alleged to have taken place in 2008 at our high school."
The letter said the lawsuits "brought against us are without merit," according to the newspaper report, which also said the Upper St. Clair Public School District stated that it is "vigorously defending" itself.
But, according to the Post-Gazette, court filings include a text message received by the victim from the male classmate that states: "im soo sry i didn't mean 2 make u cry. i'm cant believe i just raped u well bout time u read dis i mite b dead."
The district countered that it could prove that that there was no rape and filed a motion for summary judgment, which asks the court to decide that available evidence supports a decision in their favor.