A woman who filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of her developmentally disabled daughter against the Steamboat Springs School District said she thinks the school district should pay for her daughter to attend a private school that can meet her daughter's needs.
The woman filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Denver. She says the district did not adequately protect her daughter from four male teenagers who the woman alleges sexually harassed and assaulted her daughter from the fall of 2001 through January 2003. The teens are named as defendants in the lawsuit, which accuses them of sexual assault. None of the teen defendants remains a student in the district, school officials said Monday.
The woman said the school district allowed her daughter to "slip through the cracks." The daughter, now 17, is in a residential treatment facility in Illinois after suffering two "psychotic episodes" that the lawsuit states were brought on by the harassment she suffered.
On Monday, the school district strongly refuted the woman's claims against the district.
"The Steamboat Springs School District denies the allegations in the complaint, specifically that any employee of the district knew of the alleged sexual harassment and failed to stop such behavior," a statement issued by the district stated. "Sexual harassment and intimidation of any kind toward any student are violations of district policy and are not tolerated.
"The school district will defend the lawsuit and is confident that once all of the facts become known, a judge will dismiss the claims against the school district."
The lawsuit states the girl suffered brain damage in an accident when she was 3. As a result, her cognitive skills -- including judgment and reasoning -- were "significantly impaired." The girl had been identified as a student in need of special education services, the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that the harassment began in the fall of 2001 when the girl was a student at Steamboat Springs Middle School.
According to a police report obtained by the Steamboat Pilot & Today, male students allegedly pressured the girl to perform sexual acts on them by threatening to spread rumors about her and show nude pictures of her to others in the school. None of the sex acts is alleged to have occurred on school grounds. The lawsuit alleges that the girl was sexually harassed and intimidated at the middle school and at the high school the following year.
The lawsuit alleges that school personnel were aware that the girl was being harassed but did not take action to prevent the harassment.
"(School officials) misunderstood the complexities of her disabilities and left her vulnerable to predation," said Jack D. Robinson of Denver, the girl's attorney.
In January 2003, the girl reportedly told a high school counselor about the harassment and abuse. Jason Patrick, the school resource officer at the time, investigated the case. He interviewed several students and filed a 16-page report with the District Attorney's Office. At the end of his report, Patrick wrote that the girl's mother had pulled her out of school and decided to stop cooperating with police.
No charges were filed. Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James said the case was not prosecutable. He said he could not comment further.
Patrick's report indicates that the daughter consented to the sexual acts. The report also indicates that many of the students who knew her were aware that she had some level of disability.
Robinson said the girl was not capable of giving consent because of her disabilities and that the boys who allegedly harassed her should have known that.
"If you are old enough to demand repeatedly that someone provide you with oral sex, then you are old enough to understand consent," Robinson said. "And this was not a one-time thing. This happened over a long period of time on numerous instances."
The woman, who has one child in the school district and another whom she decided to home school, said she initially was disappointed that the DA's office never filed charges against the teens. But she said that decision ultimately might have been in her daughter's best interest.
"In the long run, I think it worked out well that they did not prosecute the case," the mother said. "My daughter could not have handled it. A civil case was the way we had to go."