MVLA stands by response in wake of rape allegation

In light of an ongoing federal investigation of the Mountain View Los Altos Union High School District for Title IX violations, district officials are emphasizing communication with parents regarding off-campus incidents.

Last June, a former district student initiated a Title IX investigation with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, claiming that the district failed to respond adequately after she alleged that a fellow student raped her at a an after-hours party.

Enacted in 1972, Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender in education. The statute requires that schools act as campus safeguards in the event of sexual violence complaints.

The San Francisco Chronicle disclosed the local investigation earlier this month in an article featuring interviews with the unidentified female victim and her mother. According to the Chronicle, the assault occurred Sept. 12, 2015, in a locked bathroom at a San Jose hotel party hosted by a student’s father. Alcohol and pills were available at the party, according to the victim.

The Chronicle reported that the victim filed the complaint on the grounds the district failed to take a proactive approach in informing her family of its rights under Title IX, did not investigate the alleged rape and did not provide accommodations afforded to her under the civil rights law.

The victim was a student in the district’s Middle College program, which enables students to combine college-credit courses with two district-sponsored general education courses at Foothill College. Her home school was Los Altos High School. The alleged assailant was also a student at Los Altos High.

The Town Crier was unable to contact either student, due to their continuing anonymity.

District stands by its response

Superintendent Jeff Harding refuted allegations that the district failed to respond appropriately to the alleged assault, contending that the district “could not have been more accessible” in offering the affected student accommodations.

While no official school investigation was conducted regarding the off-campus assault, Harding said he and other district staff carefully reviewed the incident, calling the detective in San Jose who filed the police report. The victim did not name her alleged assailant in the police report and declined to pursue a criminal investigation, according to the Chronicle.

“We opened an investigation to the degree to determine if we had jurisdiction,” Harding said. “We talked to the girl and we talked to our legal counsel. We had no disciplinary jurisdiction – our responsibility was to make accommodations to the girl.”

According to Harding, after the victim and her mother notified the district, he offered counseling, which they declined. He provided the victim with his and Los Altos High Principal Wynne Satterwhite’s cellphone numbers and told her to contact them if she needed anything.

Harding said he did not hear from the victim or her mother about any accommodations until two days before graduation, when they requested that her alleged assailant not be allowed to walk in the ceremony. Harding said the district was unable to fulfill that request.

“We offered to adjust her seats,” he said. “We did everything we could.”

The district informs families of their rights under Title IX in the annual paperwork parents are required to sign at the start of each school year. Harding said he feels that the district fulfilled its Title IX duties.

“We have great compassion for any student who experiences sexual assault,” he said. “We will do everything in our power to support that the student feels safe.”

Informing parents of policies

Harding said the district does its best to inform parents when it learns of off-campus events that might include or encourage unsafe or illegal activity, but district officials often do not learn about parties until after they are thrown, and then only via hearsay.

“We are interested in transparent communication with parents and will notify them if there are unsafe conditions, even during school,” he said. “We can’t notify them about an event if we don’t know it is happening.”

Earlier in January, the district sent a letter to parents warning them of possible illicit parties planned in conjunction with the schools’ scheduled Winter Balls.

“We have thoughtful and confident students; however, this does not mean that they will always make the best decisions especially when faced with group pressures,” the letter stated. “We have heard a few rumors that parties may be planned around the dances, and we want to make sure that parents are vigilant.”

Harding said he wants to partner with parents to ensure that students are safe, both on campus and off.

“I want to stress that we have augmented home-to-school communication, with the hope of alerting parents about off-campus student behaviors,” Harding stated in another letter sent to parents after the Chronicle article appeared. “Information is power, so when we hear anything that we feel our parents should be made aware of, we will share it with you.”

In addition to maintaining a line of communications with parents, Harding said the district is in the process of updating policies and procedures that involve community relations and discrimination policies, including those addressing rights under Title IX.

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