There is an excellent term used to describe when public schools quietly transfer teachers who sexually prey on students. That term is “passing the trash.” But what about when an entire school district turns a blind eye to repeated cases of students sexually assaulting and bullying other students?
According to New York State Attorney General Letitia James that constitutes a federal Title IX violation and she has decided that enough is enough.
In a lawsuit James filed last week on behalf of the People of New York, James states that the Niagara Wheatfield Central School District failed to protect students from sexual assault. The lawsuit also says that district and school officials “took no action to protect [students] from their assailants and harassers, leading several students to drop out of school and lose access to educational opportunities.” Because of that, the district repeatedly violated Title IX, which prohibits the discrimination of students on the basis of gender in any institution that receives federal funding.
The suit was a result of a multi-year AG investigation of sexual assault and bullying in the district. That investigation found “more than 30 documented incidents of sex discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, or gender-based bullying at Niagara Wheatfield, yet the district never created a single written safety plan, nor took any documented effort to keep students safe following these reports of rape, physical or sexual assault, or harassment.”
This lawsuit is far more than a powerful “shot over the bow” to end bullying, sex abuse, and cover-up in schools. Because Attorney General James used Title IX as the basis for the action, the survivors of these crimes are empowered to speak out and take action— and not only in New York but nationwide.
Any federal Title IX legal action is significant and newsworthy. Furthermore, when other survivors and other school districts see that definitive legal action is being taken to protect students, survivors are validated and empowered, and schools are forced into ensuring that survivors are helped AND the cycle of abuse and cover-up can be immediately addressed and stopped. Lawsuits like the one filed by the New York Attorney General are an important step in child protection and coupled with strong legislation like the New York Child Victims Act (which expires in August 13th, 2021), survivors of child sexual assault are being heard making sure that what happened to them does not happen to other children.
We salute the New York State Attorney General Letitia James and hope that other states use this strong, anti-crime, victim-friendly tool to help survivors heal and protect the rights and safety of all children and the future students.