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I.S. 237 in Flushing

Legal Services of New York City filed a lawsuit against the city Department of Education (DOE) for responding with “indifference and inaction” toward multiple special needs students who were sexual assaulted at public schools in Queens and across the city.

Both Gothamist and Politico were first to report the story, which detailed the experiences of four public school students who were “sexually assaulted or sexually harassed” and are “consequently experiencing trauma-related disabilities.”

The lawsuit stated that although the incidents were reported to school officials, DOE did not provide the victims with the proper protections that grant them equal educational opportunities, resources and special education supports guaranteed to them under Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972.

All of the students included in the lawsuit have been issued IEPs, indicating they are children with special needs, prior to being attacked or harassed.

One of the alleged incidents happened to a student identified as “Anna Doe”, a 12-year-old student at I.S. 237 in Flushing. The young girl was in the sixth grade at the middle school when a classmate allegedly sexually assaulted her in a nearby shed in June 2018. The suit stated that the gender-based violence continued throughout the start of the current school year.

A second alleged incident happened to a former student at the Collaborative Arts Middle School in Springfield Gardens. “Maria Doe” was a sixth-grade student when multiple students repeatedly “taunted, punched and sexually assaulted” her on her way home from school.

As a result of the two-year harassment, the now 13-year-old student has been diagnosed with anxiety and is receiving home instruction, though she intends to return to school next year.

State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic issued a joint statement on May 1 upon learning about the disturbing incidents.

“We were beyond shocked when we heard about the assault. We have passed laws that are clear and precise into how these cases are to be handled,” the statement noted. “The Department of Education is required to provide specific services and follow certain procedures in order to assist victims. If these claims are found to be true, it represents a complete and total failure of the NYC Department of Education to protect our most vulnerable children. The Department of Education must take swift action to ensure all staff understand and comply with laws and regulations established to keep our children safe. When parents or guardians send their children to school, there is a presumption of safety. Schools should be a nurturing environment and that feeling of security has been jeopardized.”

QNS learned that all DOE schools are required to have a designated Sexual Harassment Prevention Liaison trained annually on sexual harassment and make sure that the information is relayed to all school staff. Over 3,000 DOE staff have been trained on relevant topics including dating violence and healthy relationships, student-to-student sexual harassment and gender inclusivity.

According to Chancellor’s Regulation A-831, all student-to-student sexual harassment must immediately be reported and investigated. If principals or designees suspect criminal activity, it must be reported to the police.

“Our schools must be safe and inclusive environments, and there is absolutely zero tolerance for any sexual misconduct. Any allegation must be reported, investigated and addressed, and this work is a shared responsibility of all DOE staff including the Sexual Harassment Liaisons in every school and a Title IX coordinator who oversees DOE compliance. We’ll review the lawsuit,” said DOE spokesperson Doug Cohen.

Story updated on May 7. 

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