Texas school district’s response to playground sexual assault upsets parent

Editor’s Note: This story features an account of alleged sexual assault against minors. NewsNation affiliate KXAN has withheld the names and identifying information for the privacy of those involved. If you are in distress or need someone to talk to, please call RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

DRIPPING SPRINGS, Texas (KXAN) — A Dripping Springs ISD mother describes an Oct. 20 family dinner with her elementary student in heart-breaking detail.

During nightly family dinners, she, her husband and children do “highs and lows” — each tells the others about the best moment and worst moment from their day.

“I don’t have a high for the day,” said one of her children.

“We kept calm in the moment,” said the mom, after learning her child’s low for the day. “I just kept thinking, ‘what the f— happened to them?'”

The Incident

According to the mom, her child and another student were both on the playground at recess. She believes five teachers and more than 100 other students were also on the large playground. Security cameras were mounted around the area to monitor the students.

The two students, who knew each other from prior grades, were under a play structure and visible to teachers and cameras, according to the mom.

“We’re going to play vet,” said the other student.

According to the mom, her child said that’s when the other student reached into her child’s pants. The mom said that the other student then sexually assaulted her child.

Her child told their parents that they told a teacher, but the mom said no one from the school contacted her. She said they only learned what happened when her child told the family during dinner.

After checking their child for injuries, the mom said they contacted a pediatrician, a child psychologist and the school. Since the incident, she said their child has received medical care and therapy.

The Investigation

The school responded to the mom the next day. It told her that a “stay away” order was put in place for the two students and that it verbally communicated the order to relevant teachers and staff.

The parents and school administrators met on Oct. 23. The mom said school officials presented two options at that meeting: an internal investigation by the school district or a Title IX complaint investigation. The mom said school officials told them that if a Title IX complaint was filed, then details about what happened and the names of everyone involved would be public information.

The mom said they filed a Title IX complaint on the same day.

KXAN has filed a public information request for more information on the Title IX investigation.

The mom said that on Nov. 7, investigators interviewed the two students and another child who had witnessed what happened. According to the mom, those interviews corroborated her child’s story. She also said that the district deemed video footage “too grainy” to tell what happened, but it also couldn’t show them the footage, saying it had automatically been deleted after 16 days.

According to the mom, the investigation closed on Nov. 20 and concluded that the other child did sexually assault her child.

“This happened in broad daylight,” the mom said. “Where were the teachers? Is anyone being held accountable? Is anyone looking into the other student’s safety?”

Jennifer Edwards, the executive director of communication with Dripping Springs ISD, told KXAN the, “parents of the students who were involved were immediately notified of the incident as well as the Hays County Sheriff’s Office and Child Protective Services.” Dripping Springs ISD did not give details on the alleged incident or the Title IX investigation.

The day the investigation closed, the mom said the district told the parents and their child to sign a new order for their child to stay away from the other child. This upset the mom, who feels that signing the order would make her child feel like they did something wrong.

Edwards tells KXAN that “state and federal laws protecting student privacy do not allow the district to provide specific details about this incident.”

The Outcome

After the investigation, the mom said she asked their child’s teacher about the stay-away order and to report any changes in their child’s well-being or behavior.

“The teacher said they didn’t even know about the order,” the mom said. “The ISD said it wouldn’t release a notice to parents about the assault because it would be a FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) violation.”

Since then, the parents spoke with other parents, rallying others to support reforming district policies.

“It breaks my heart,” the mom said. “The policies in place aren’t good enough. We used to not have to lock doors at schools, but because of school shootings, we have to now. Something needs to change. We have to do things different.”

The mom, along with 10 other parents, met with Dripping Springs ISD and school leaders on Friday, March 1. They went armed with talking points: What is staff required to do if a student under the age of 10 tells about a sexual assault? How will the ISD support victims? How does the school teach students about boundaries and abuse?

“Children deserve a trauma-informed and victim-centered response by the school system: asking a victim to sign stay-away documents appears to demonstrate a lack of understanding of proper child development,” reads the talking points shared by the mom. “Being asked to sign a document may be interpreted by the child that they have done something wrong, which is a common feeling expressed by children who have experienced abuse and often keeps them from disclosing.”

She said her focus is on preventing other parents and students from experiencing what happened to her family.

“It’s an uncomfortable conversation that a school district doesn’t want to have. But we need to have it,” the mom said. “I just hope the district doesn’t retaliate against us because I’m advocating for my child.”

The Meeting

According to the mom, the Friday meeting felt like a “step in the right direction,” with leaders apologizing for perceived missteps in the process.

“It’s going to be a journey, but I think they’re willing to take appropriate steps,” she said.

The mom said the group received verbal commitments from district leaders at the meeting, including:

  • New security cameras, already funded through state grants for school security
  • Better zoning and patrolling by adults supervising students during recess
  • The expansion of opt-in abuse prevention training to K-5 students

According to her, meeting attendees also discussed having further discussions with the district about safety policies.

Dripping Springs ISD provided a statement to KXAN Friday afternoon:

The safety of the students of Dripping Springs ISD is the district’s first and most important priority. Our staff takes all reports of harm to students seriously and investigates incidents fully to determine the actions necessary to ensure the safety of all students. The incident was immediately reported to law enforcement and Child Protective Services. The district’s Title IX Coordinator was notified and the appropriate procedures were followed in accordance with federal law.

Jennifer Edwards, Dripping Springs ISD Executive Director of Communications

KXAN also asked Dripping Springs ISD officials if they intended to change any policies as a result of the investigation.

“The district regularly reviews its policies and practices in order to best serve the students and families of DSISD; however, the district did not identify any concerns in the handling of this matter by campus administration,” said Edwards in response to KXAN’s question. “The campus took appropriate action to inform and support the involved families and ensure the safety of all students.”

When told about the district’s response, the mom was surprised and disappointed, calling it an “unfortunate inconsistency.”

“This will make parents more upset,” the mom said. “I guess we’re back to square one if they don’t think things need to change.”

KXAN followed up with Edwards about those answers. She reiterated that the district did not identify any missteps or mistakes in its process, calling the mom’s account of the Friday meeting “inaccurate.”

“In our investigation of how the administration handled the incident, the district did not identify any missteps or mistakes. As stated, the district is always willing to review our policies and procedures in an effort to improve operations and student safety,” Edwards said. 

Southwest

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