Lake Oswego student plans lawsuit after alleged abuse
A Lake Oswego High student has notified the school and district that she intends to file a lawsuit later this month, claiming officials failed to provide a safe environment for her after she reported that she had been sexually and emotionally abused by her boyfriend and obtained a restraining order against him.
In the days after she reported the abuse, the girl says, she was subjected to harassment, bullying and cyberbullying and was forced to walk the halls of the school in fear of retaliation. Yet officials did little more than suggest she and her boyfriend take separate classes in different parts of the LOHS campus, she says.
The girl's allegations are included in a tort claim notice sent by certified mail to Superintendent Heather Beck on March 22. In addition to Beck, it names Assistant Superintendent Michael Musick, LOHS Principal Rollin Dickinson, Assistant Principal Ryan Rosenau and counselors Joe Geiger and Michele Tyra.
The notice, written by Portland attorney Leta Gorman, alleges that school officials failed to provide her client with a safe school environment, interfered with her right to a public school education, gave preferential treatment to a male student athlete over a female victim of sexual assault and failed to follow LOSD policies regarding the investigation and prevention of bullying, cyberbullying, harassment and retaliation.
"Why can LOHS and the LOSD decide to favor a male (athlete), allowing him to be at school despite a restraining order against him, when that preferential treatment results in preventing a female student from feeling safe and protected at a school she loved and with teachers who nurtured and supported her?" Gorman wrote. "The LOSD and LOHS have chosen a male athlete over a female student."
District officials responded to that allegation this week, saying that when the LOSD has a situation in which students have issues that occur off campus, the district relies on the court as its guide for how each of the students is treated.
"In this case, the court did not order him to be off campus, but rather he could attend this high school," said Christine Moses, the LOSD's executive director of communications. "The remedy for families where these situations arise is to go back to the court system, and the district will comply with the court's subsequent directives."
Moses said the district stands ready "to serve the student in any learning environment."
"We do not have the ability to monitor social media and other communication channels to prevent off-campus situations. These issues need to be dealt with by parents through the police and the court system," Moses said on Wednesday. "If the district receives information about specific threats or retaliation on school grounds, the district will investigate and take immediate action."
Because of the nature of the allegations, The Review is not naming the girl or her ex-boyfriend, who is still a student at LOHS. Attempts to reach the male student were not successful; the girl has chosen to complete her senior year by taking online classes and plans to attend New York University in the fall.
According to court documents, the girl filed for a restraining order against her alleged abuser on Feb. 20, 2018, detailing incidents of abuse dating back to 2016. She wrote that her boyfriend was easily angered, violent, sexually aggressive and manipulative. She wrote that he frequently hit her and said, "I have become so scared of him that for the past year, I flinch anytime he moves quickly around me."
She asked that the alleged abuser be required to leave LOHS.
A consent agreement was reached in March, requiring the male student to refrain from contacting the girl, talking about their relationship or being within 150 feet of her. Nothing in the agreement required that the male student leave LOHS, however.
According to Gorman, the girl agreed to the terms after suffering a concussion caused by her alleged abuser.
"Because of the head trauma and damage, (the girl's) neurologist didn't want her going to court at the time of the hearing. So she entered into the consent agreement," Gorman said. "(She) was scared, panicked and not thinking clearly."
According to Gorman, the girl and her mother met with Beck and Musick and provided "a detailed accounting of the sexual assault and the resulting bullying, cyberbullying, harassment and retaliation that followed (the girl's) reporting of it to the school and the police." The administrators were also told of the restraining order against the male student, Gorman said.
The meeting was held about a week after the girl's mother forwarded emails to Beck and Musick that she had sent to Dickinson, Rosenau, Geiger and Tyra about the abuse, Gorman said. None of the LOHS officials responded to those emails, Gorman said, or to a copy of the restraining order that had previously been provided to them.
The girl and her mother said school and district officials initially appeared sympathetic to her experiences, and they believed the necessary steps would be taken to remove the alleged abuser from campus. Rosenau told the girl that she "should not have to walk in the same halls as your abuser," the mother told The Review this week.
Now, however, the family feels they have been let down by an administration they trusted to protect them.
"To date," Gorman wrote in the tort claim notice, "no investigation by anyone at the LOSD or LOHS has occurred."
The Lake Oswego Police Department did investigate the reported abuse and forwarded the case to the Clackamas County District Attorney's office, according to LOPD Lt. Darryl Wrisley. No charges have been filed, however.
The girl told The Review that within two hours of the restraining order being delivered to the male student's house, online postings appeared on social media. By sharing the restraining order or elements of it, she said, the boy was able to craft a narrative in his favor and discredit her allegations.
"Everyone at school had only heard his side, and they all sided with him," the girl said. "I was scared to walk the halls because everyone was talking about it."
One of the most disturbing parts of the online response was the creation of hashtags showing support for the girl's alleged abuser, she said, including #ImWithHim and #NotYouToo.
The girl left school shortly after the retaliation began. "She was crumbling," her mother said. "The storm against (her) hit hard and fast."
"I trusted that the school was going to do something," she said. "How could they not? They sat there and told me they would do something."
In the tort claim notice, Gorman said that "besides offering that (the girl) could take on-campus classes that don't include the male student and an unrealistic suggestion that the male student take classes in areas of the campus separate from (the girl)," nothing has been done to protect her.
"Instead," Gorman said, "she has now been forced to take online classes because no one at the LOSD or LOHS would choose to protect her over her abuser."
The girl should not be forced to take classes only if the male student is not enrolled in them, Gorman said, and she should not have to limit her movement at school "because the male student, who has a restraining order against him, walks those same halls."
"Not a single thing has been done by the LOSD or LOHS to protect (the girl)," Gorman wrote, and her client has suffered emotional distress and economic losses as a result. "For these reasons, (the girl) is seeking damages from LOHS and the LOSD."
Gorman said the lawsuit will claim violations of Oregon statutory and common laws; violations of LOSD and LOHS policies; and violations of Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on gender.