This article contains mentions of sexual assault and rape. Please read with caution.
On August 24, 2022, a jury atoned a former Pasadena Unified School District special needs student $26 million worth of damages after being sexually assaulted by three male classmates in 2016. The student was only ll years old at the time of her assault when three male classmates took her outside of the classroom building after being left unsupervised. The three males then disturbingly stated in reference to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, “[i]t’s rape time…” and began to sexually assault her.
At the time of the assault, the former 11-year-old student was attending Focus Point Academy in Pasadena, whose mission statement states: “Focus Point offers a small, highly structured special educational program that incorporates daily supportive counseling and specially designed academic instruction for students diagnosed with emotional disturbances and specific learning disabilities in grades 1 – 12.”
The San Gabriel Valley Tribune states that “[t]he plaintiff was an 11-year-old student in the special-education program for emotionally disturbed children at Focus Point when a teacher’s aide left her unsupervised on May 17, 2016…” It was during this time that three male classmates—who were not named nor were their ages provided—allegedly dragged the student outside of a building and sexually assaulted her, with the 11-year-old student pleading for them to stop. The juveniles were charged and as a result of this incident, the student was then institutionalized.
An important aspect of this lawsuit with respect to the San Gabriel Valley Tribune was that it “claims the Pasadena Unified School District knew of the plaintiff’s special education needs, but failed to warn her or her social worker of the dangers from other students at Focus Point, and didn’t notify her of previous incidents at the school.” To which the prosecution further expressed, “[d]efendants … failed to use reasonable care so as to avoid or prevent serious injury to plaintiff…” The failure to protect the 11-year-old student, in this case, raises a question for all institutions about how special needs students (regardless of all disabilities) are protected in the educational setting.
Concerning governing laws in education, Disability Rights California states, “Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination based on disability and applies to any school receiving federal funding. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“Title II”) also prohibits discrimination based on disability, but applies to all state and local entities, whether or not they receive federal funds. Bullying and disability harassment can be a form of discrimination that violates both Section 504 and Title II.”
However, specifically at Whittier College, the Student Accessibilities Services “is committed to ensuring equal treatment, educational opportunity, academic freedom, and human dignity for students with learning, physical/medical, and psychological/psychiatric disabilities” Students who are in need of a personal care attendant can contact Mariam MacLeod, the director of Student Accessibilities Services. She explained, “[w]hen a student has a personal care attendant, it is typically for medical reasons, and is provided from an external agency that the student is eligible to receive services from. It is not something we provide at Whittier.” This information is important to know, should a student experience assault or harassment while they are under the supervision of an aid– Whittier College will not be at fault.
If a disabled student experiences any form of sexual harassment or misconduct, there is a form available to students on Whittier College’s website under the Department of Campus Safety. This section provides information on the Sexual Misconduct Policy and the form to Report Sexual Misconduct or Harassment.
This lawsuit proves that it is critically important for educational institutions to highly improve and uphold the protection of disabled students, regardless of whether the student has a physical or emotionally lead disability. No student should feel unsafe in school settings, and this feeds into Whittier College’s responsibility to protect these students as well.
Featured Image: Sage Amdahl / Quaker Campus