Fairfax County School District Accused of Violating Right to Due Process in Sexual Misconduct Cases
Title IX By Harvey Binnall PLLC - 2019/05/31 at 02:41pm
In the past few months, three separate federal lawsuits have been brought against the Fairfax County School District (the tenth largest public school system in the country) for mishandling sexual misconduct investigations against accused students, for wrongfully punishing the accused, and for failing to ensure due process of law.
By way of example, in one of the cases (that our firm is currently handling), the 18-year old male plaintiff witnessed a female student being slapped on the buttocks while in the school hallways. The female student filed a complaint, and further accused the plaintiff of having sexually harassed her in class by flirting, poking, and putting his arm around her shoulders. Surveillance video footage later revealed that he did not actually make any physical contact in the hallway, and the plaintiff counters that his flirtatious behavior in class was consensual.
Plaintiff argues that during the investigation, the assistant principal disregarded valuable information relating to the fact that some of the statements made by the accuser were demonstrably false. Plaintiff also argues that the hearing procedures were inadequate, and that he was only given proper notice of the hearing in a letter that was served upon him the day before the actual hearing date. Finally, despite the fact that the accuser partially retracted her allegations, school administrators required that the plaintiff transfer to a different school.
We are deeply saddened by the decisions made by Fairfax County School District in the wake of these sexual misconduct allegations, and the ease with which systemic injustice has been furthered. Fairfax County appears to lack any real consideration for those who could be faced with false accusations.
Change does seem to be on the horizon. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed new rules that would change how Title IX is enforced in a way that is more representative of its seriousness and impact. The proposed rules could give rise to a more consistent procedural scheme that applies to all school districts. Among these rules proposals are changes allowing the accused individual to challenge the credibility of their accuser, allowing the school to apply a heightened evidentiary standard, requiring defense lawyer representation at every stage of the process, and more.
Questions about what a sexual misconduct allegation under Title IX means for you and your family? Contact Harvey & Binnall, PLLC today to speak with an experienced Title IX defense attorney.
Title IX Compliance in the K-12 Environment
Title IX was originally passed in 1972 as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act, with the intention of forcing schools to provide equal access to its facilities and programs regardless of the sex of the participant. Since that time, Title IX protections have expanded, and now impose a duty on schools to prevent sexual misconduct. This duty requires that schools respond to sexual misconduct claims appropriately by conducting a thorough investigation.
In investigating a report of sexual misconduct, the school’s investigation must involve an extensive evidence gathering period (i.e., interviews with suspects, collection of witness statements, photo evidence, etc.). The failure of a school system to take adequate steps to comply with Title IX’s sexual misconduct protections could lead to significant civil and criminal penalties.
Often lost in the shuffle of compliance, however, is the fact that the school must provide due process of law to the accused. Though due process of law is required at all stages of the investigation and internal dispute process, the cause of justice is not necessarily served due to the sensitive nature of such investigations and public pressure on the school to “punish” the accused.
An investigator’s fact findings (with respect to the guilt of the accused student) cannot always be challenged. Further, a student may not be given a fair hearing before a neutral tribunal, and in fact may even receive the outcome of the school’s decision (determined in private) through the mail, having been given no opportunity to formally challenge their accuser and oppose the charges.
The lack of consistent rules from school-to-school further exacerbates these due process compliance issues. In some school districts, the accused is entitled to have their legal team present during hearings, investigations, etc. In others, the accused is required to move forward without proper counsel.
Contact Harvey & Binnall, PLLC for Comprehensive Legal Representation
If you or a loved one has been charged with a Title IX sex offense, then it’s important that you consult a qualified Title IX defense attorney at Harvey & Binnall, PLLC. Immediate action must be taken to ensure that due process rights are upheld and a vigorous defense is provided. We believe that the mere allegation of sexual misconduct should not have a ruinous, lifelong impact on the accused child.
We provide comprehensive representation to clients located in Virginia, Maryland, and throughout the Washington D.C. metro area. The breadth and depth of our litigation experiences over the years has given us substantial insight into the difficulties and opportunities that clients — Title IX and otherwise — may encounter as an investigation develops.
Contact Harvey & Binnall, PLLC at 703-888-1943 or through our online form to request a consultation. We are committed to helping guide Title IX defendants through this harrowing and high-stakes process.