The U.S. Department of Justice and Teton County School District have reached a settlement to resolve the department’s investigation into alleged sex- and disability-related retaliation in the district.
The DOJ’s investigation into the school district of Wyoming’s wealthiest county focused on allegations by students of sexual harassment and a broad school climate where people can subject female students to insults and derogatory comments in the hallways, in classes and on social media, the DOJ says in a statement outlining the settlement.
The complaint probably stems from two 2020 lawsuits against the district, Charlotte Reynolds, civil rights and Title IX coordinator for Teton County School District, told Cowboy State Daily.
But the DOJ never showed the district the full complaint against it, she said.
“I would say we took exception to many of the claims the Department of Justice made,” said Reynolds. “However, we recognize the need to work collaboratively and cooperatively with the department with the goal being, if there are ways we can improve and better support students we want to do that.”
The DOJ is asking for the district to adopt more specific anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.
“We pointed out to the department we have (those) policies,” said Reynolds. The Office of Civil Rights has reviewed the district’s policies periodically, she continued, and “had not indicated any of our policies were lacking.”
Though the district doesn’t agree fully with the DOJ’s assessment of it, Reynolds said that “we are just focused on moving forward and on efforts to continually improve.”
These Settled Lawsuits
The district settled both 2020 lawsuits at the request of its insurance company for about $270,000 and $295,000, respectively, Reynolds said. The insurance company paid both settlements.
“Again, that was their decision, not our school district’s decision,” said Reynolds.
Two high school girls in the separate lawsuits claimed they were raped by fellow students, and they accused the school of not intervening to prevent others from gossiping about and bullying them after the attacks.
A girl in the first lawsuit from June 2020, filing under the pseudonym Jane Doe, alleged that a boy who had befriended her at school forcibly held her down and raped her when she was 14 in the summer of 2017.
Her life and her school performance worsened after that and she became suicidal, the girl’s complaint claimed.
She accused the school of failing to investigate her attacker and instead investigated and disciplined her, as the animosity between herself and her attacker (and his friends) grew.
In the second lawsuit filed late December 2020, a girl identified with the pseudonym Rachel Roe alleged that a classmate raped her at his home in Jackson the day after the homecoming dance while she was a freshman in 2017.
At a later date, he forced his hands down her pants and touched her genitalia at the Teton County School District baseball fields after a nearby football game ended, the lawsuit had alleged.
Roe’s lawsuit accused district personnel of being “unconcerned” and not acting to protect the girl from subsequent harassment and gossip.
Another classmate in 2018 allegedly persuaded the girl to drink alcohol outside a concert when she was 15, then raped her.
He told her he had left some money in her pocket for a Plan B contraceptive, the lawsuit claimed, but the girl became pregnant.
She had an abortion after talking with her doctor, the complaint said.
“Terminating the pregnancy was very painful to (her), both physically and emotionally,” the document added.
The plaintiffs were different people but their attorneys were the same, Jack D. Edwards and Kaden B. Canfield of Edwards Law Office in Etna, Wyoming.
The school district cooperated fully with the DOJ’s investigation, says the agency’s July 20 press release, and “took proactive steps to begin revising and strengthening its anti-harassment policies and its multi-tiered support systems to help ensure that students who experience discrimination receive the proper services.”
One of the goals going forward is to prevent retaliation against students based on sex or disability.
Some disabilities stem from trauma, the statement says.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.