Conservator cannot sue school system for harboring student who repeatedly assaulted female classmates
Carole Pahssen sued the Breckenridge Community Schools, the Merrill Community School District and several individuals on behalf of Jane Doe after Doe was sexually assaulted by a boy who was repeating the ninth grade after a long suspension. The Conservator acting for Doe, an eight-grader, claimed in a Title IX action that the Defendants were deliberately indifferent to the risks presented by the boy's sexual misconduct and to his sexual harrassment of Doe and that they failed to respond appropriately.
The family presented evidence of repeated disciplinary problems involving the boy over several years, including multiple arrests for sexual assault as well as other inappropriate behavior. This activity culminated in the fall of 2007 when, after a lewd encounter at the girl's basketball bgame (the third incident that fall involving Doe), the girl's father warned administrators that the boy "was a volcano waiting to erupt." The boy was monitored for 30 days by Breckenridge Schools, uneventfully, before raping Jane the following month on school property. The Conservator argued that the two school systems (Breckenridge and Merrill--the school he attended during a prior school year) had shown deliberate indifference to Jane's civil rights and had conspired to deny her equal protection.
The Court dismissed the family's claim. It held that since the school administrators did not share the boy's animus, they could not be guilty of a "conspiracy" to violate Title IX. It allowed that while a school system may be responsible for the misdeeds of a third-party, it limited this liability to those situations where liability arose "from [the school district's] own misconduct." The Court ruled that the various claims against the two school districts did not rise to the level of "severe, pervasive and objectively offensive conduct" sufficient to deprive Jane of access to educational resources. It also ruled that the Merrill School District could not be held responsible for failing to include in the rapist's school record his disciplinary history (involving the sexually assaultive behavior) and that the failure did not constitute "deliberate indifference," because the girl's family could not prove that the history was purposely omitted.