While we await the trials of Penn State admins thought to have shown deliberate indifference to the young victims of Jerry Sandusky, another head shaking display of a similar mentality is taking place at Southern Columbia Area High School in Catawissa, Pennsylvania. That mentality resulted in a Title IX suit filed against the school district and the school's principal.
According to the Title IX complaint, at the heart of the matter are two male students, prominent athletes of a prominent football and basketball school, and a female student who was sexually assaulted. According to court documents, this wasn't a case of misconstrued signals or miscommunication. The female student was targeted and lured to a house by a student she had, up to that point, considered a friend, then assaulted by a fellow student who emerged from the closet.
Before going further, the boys were convicted of the sexual assault in a criminal trial. The trial featured character witnesses for the two boys that included the school principal, their football coach, the victim's cheerleading coach, who was married to the football coach, and others from the school showing support for the perpetrators.
The complaint states that the school did nothing except ensure the perpetrators remained at the school where they could compete in football, basketball and track. The parents requested the boys be removed from the school, or at least not placed in classes with the victim, including an "honors" English class. The school would make no such accommodation, telling the victim she could drop to regular English classes.
However, that stance quickly changed when the school district realized they had to enforce the no contact order. The school then created the additional "honors" English class for the perpetrators.
Though the victim obtained a court order of protection, the school did not enforce it. In fact, according to the complaint, the attorney representing the school district amended the no contact order on behalf of one of the perpetrators. It appears the school district refused to engage in any effort to protect the victim, opting instead to intervene in a hearing to have an ankle monitor removed from one of the perpetrators because it interfered with his football games. The athletic trainer appeared on the athlete's behalf.
When the parents of the victim requested that the school allow her to transfer due to ongoing harassment, the school refused to waive the mandatory fees involved, which the family could not afford. Left with no other option, the victim was forced to take her classes online while the boys enjoyed high school activities and experiences.
Then, in another blow, the attorney representing one of the boys fought to have a gag order slapped on the victim -- and won. Imagine that you're a victim who went through the system, faced your perpetrators and won a guilty verdict only to be restricted from ever talking about it.
Just as troubling, there was no outcry from the parents in the community, no questioning of the "leadership" at the school, no real concern for the safety of the other students on the part of the parents, school or community. If I'm a parent of a student at this school, I'm outraged that two convicted juvenile sex offenders, who targeted their victim, are able to remain at the school and represent the school in athletics. It seems the parents of students at Southern Columbia Area High School were fine with this as long as the boys were helping the local team win.
As long as the administrators, who included a Title IX coordinator, were shielding the boys from any accountability while they racked up wins, that's all that mattered. The victim, who lost her entire high school experience, was not the issue to them. Ensuring the safety of other students was not their problem. Not if they could use the insulation of their small community to bully a teenage girl.
Indulge me in providing a character witness now. I met the young woman. I met her father, who contacted the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes looking for help. I have talked with them a number of times and spent time with them. I was impressed with the family, their commitment to doing the right thing and her dedication to ensuring that no one would have to endure what she endured. I am still impressed with the fact that she reported the sexual assault while a young teenager and continued at the school as long as she could bear. This young woman has great character and strength that is rarely seen in someone her age -- and yet, her school didn't recognize it. They were busy recognizing the receptions and touchdowns of her young perpetrators.
It's very likely that this young victim will make an historic, indelible mark on this school and on this community. And, though it won't appear on the stats page or in the trophy case, Southern Columbia Area High School will undoubtedly receive continued recognition -- but this time, in a courtroom.