Asra Nomani | July 14, 2023
(Fairfax County Times) — Fairfax County School Board Chair Rachna Sizemore Heizer quietly signed a settlement, agreeing recently to pay a former student, “Jane Doe,” $587,500 to end a civil lawsuit alleging the school system covered up a sexual assault. Meanwhile, Sizemore Heizer and the school board continue to wage an aggressive and expensive legal battle in a second case filed by another former student, “Kate,” now demanding the young woman release therapy notes, psychiatric records, and text messages from over a decade after alleged rapes occurred to her as a 12-year-old girl at Rachel Carson Middle School.
What’s more, lawyers for “Kate” allege that lawyers for the school board and school officials mocked the young woman during a full-day deposition that a judge has extended for another seven hours in an “enlargement of time,” over protests. Defense attorneys deny the charges.
But, in a transcript of the deposition, Melissa Fry Hague, an attorney for the young woman interrupted the deposition of the young woman to say, “Objection to the laughing, laughing at the end of the table, we would appreciate during the deposition,” according to a court transcript.
“It was a scoff, not a laugh,” responded Bruce Blanchard, a defense lawyer.
“We would appreciate it if you would not scoff,” Hague replied, later asking defense attorneys to stop “laughing or mocking throughout this deposition.”
“It appears the school district and their attorneys are not following trauma-informed practices,” said Jamie Forbes, a sexual assault victim in the 1980s when he was a high school freshman and now chief executive officer of Learning Courage, a nonprofit based in Portsmouth, N.H., working currently with about 30 private schools in the country, guiding them on the “importance of keeping survivors at the center of the process.”
Fairfax County government officials promote a “Trauma-Informed Community Network,” including public school staff, but experts say the hostile legal posture by Fairfax County Public Schools officials to “Kate” is too often typical. “They are potentially intentionally trying to retraumatize the alleged victim so that she drops the case. It is a common pattern with schools, unfortunately, if they are focused on suppressing cases instead of understanding how to care for anyone who has been harmed,” said Forbes.
In the first case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District in Alexandria, “Jane Doe” alleged that she was sexually assaulted on March 8, 2017, by another Oakton High School student on a school bus and that school administrators and staff ignored her pleas for help and discriminated against her, violating Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, which requires students protect students from sexual discrimination. The school district claimed it didn’t have proof of sexual assault, but in a ruling filed Aug. 30, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit told the Fairfax County School Board in its judicial decision that “schools do not get ‘one free rape.”
In the “settlement agreement and general release” in Jane Doe v. Fairfax County School Board, Sizemore Heizer denied the allegations in the complaint, with “The Parties” concluding the settlement is in “their respective best interests in light of the expense and uncertainty of litigation.”
So far, however, the school board’s 12 Democratic members have made a very different conclusion in a second legal battle with another former student, “Kate,” who alleges the school engaged in a cover up when she asked administrators, teachers, and staff for help when she became the target of sexual assaults and rape over five months starting in October 2011, when she was 12.
In the second complaint, Civil No. 1:19-cv-00917-RDA-TCB, also filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria, the former Fairfax County student, “Kate,” now 23, alleges that school staffers knew she had experienced increasing threatening sexual harassment at her locker for months and alleged sexually assault and rape in a secluded area near her bus stop and at school, including at knifepoint with threats to kill her and her family if she reported the attack. In the 76-page lawsuit, annotated here with the real names of defendants from the school district, the filing alleges the assaults were “consistent with the modus operandi of human and sexual traffickers in the Fairfax community.”
Lawyers for “Kate” alleged the school district is subjecting her family and her to unusual harassment, demanding in April that the young woman agrees to a vaginal exam 12 years after the alleged abuse and now choosing to “sandbag” the young woman with demands her family and she “comb their electronic devices for the last 12 years on nothing more than a fishing expedition.” The school district dropped the request for the vaginal exam after public backlash to the request.