by: Natasha Chen Updated:
SEATTLE - A dozen protesters confronted the Seattle Public Schools board Wednesday, as the U.S. Department of Education continues to investigate a possible Title IX violation involving the district and issues of sexual violence.
Since KIRO 7 first reported in late July that a former Garfield High School student said she was raped on a 2012 field trip, Seattle Public Schools officials have maintained they were instructed not to investigate it as long as the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the case.
On Wednesday, an FBI spokesperson told KIRO 7 the agency would never ask another organization not to investigate a rape.
KIRO 7 told the girl’s parents Wednesday about the new information.
The girl’s mother said, “That's extremely validating because from the inception of our complaint against the district, they have been coming up with innumerable excuses.”
Seattle Public Schools did an investigation at least three months after the alleged incident occurred. School authorities never interviewed the victim, because by the time of the investigation, she had moved out of state to receive therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
School officials said Wednesday they will review their records on their guidance from the FBI. An SPS spokesperson said the U.S. Department of Education advised districts to delay their own investigations if law enforcement is involved.
At the board meeting, protestors told the board they wanted to see more accountability for the investigation and more education to students and staff about what constitutes sexual assault.
One woman, Alison Starke, said she was sexually assaulted in high school. She did not attend a Seattle public school, but she said her situation received little response.
“Nobody did anything. So I think it’s important to do something for this girl,” Starke said.
Sylvie Nameth, a Garfield High School alumna, said she was told by other former classmates that they felt discouraged in coming forward with reports of assault.
“It really upsets me to think that there are so many people who won’t even come forward about it because they know that this is the way they’ll be treated,” Nameth said.
In response to the public comments, board members said they agreed there should be improved policies.
Commissioner Sue Peters said, “If we follow the policies and laws that are put before us, we will find ourselves facing very few circumstances like the one we’re talking about tonight.”
Before the meeting, Superintendent Larry Nyland sent a letter to Garfield High School parents. It read in part:
“The incident reported after a 2012 Garfield High School field trip is of concern to us all. We would each be deeply shaken if our child was involved in such an incident. While we cannot undo that event, we can learn from it and take steps to increase the safety for our students.”
Nyland said that while the district’s investigation found the facts to be inconclusive, he said the following has been done as a result of this incident:
- Established a critical incident response plan and trained administrators in how to respond to issues such as this
- Reviewed and improved training, field trip and chaperoning practices
- Trained administrators in appropriate responses to critical incidents such as this