Eight Ways Fairfax County Public Schools Violated Students’ Civil Rights and Endangered Students in the Past School Year
2021-2022 was a terrible school year for civil rights in Fairfax County Public Schools, especially for survivors of sexual misconduct and disabled students. To culminate the end of the school year, Shatter the Silence FCPS compiled a list of eight of the most egregious civil rights violations by Fairfax County Public Schools, along with a few dishonorable mentions. Here are the worst:
1. Asking the Supreme Court to Enshrine a “One Free Rape Rule” for Student-on-Student Sexual Abuse
In February, Fairfax County Public Schools asked the United States Supreme Court to dramatically re-interpret Title IX in a way that endangers students and teachers alike. In rejecting FCPS’ argument twice, a federal appeals court explained that FCPS is asking for schools to get “one free rape” before being held accountable for sexual misconduct.
Title IX is the law that protects students and teachers from sexual harassment, abuse, and gender discrimination in the classroom. We explain the facts and the implications of the case here. In summary, if FCPS wins its appeal, it will gut a crucial civil rights law that protects students and educators across the country.
When the public found out about FCPS’s “One Free Rape” appeal, the public was justifiably outraged. Students at no less than seven schools walked out in protest. 22,000 citizens signed our petition asking FCPS to withdraw the appeal.
Despite this, not a single school board member even questioned the appeal. Instead, FCPS lied to the public claiming that the appeal was to protect educators, which makes no sense, since Title IX also protects educators as well as students.
Currently, the Supreme Court has not indicated whether it will accept FCPS’ petition. However, if FCPS wins, as Public Justice attorney Alexandra Brodsky stated, “Fairfax" will become synonymous with the destruction of Title IX's protections for student survivors.”
2. Arguing that Sex-Abuse Survivors Cannot Use Pseudonyms in Litigation
“One Free Rape” wasn’t the only way FCPS spent taxpayer money shredding the rights of sexual abuse survivors. This past year, it argued to a federal appeals court that a survivor couldn’t use a pseudonym because of the possibility that the survivor was a “phantom person.”
A little context is needed to understand this story. A former Rachel Carson Middle School student alleged that when she was 12-years-old and in the seventh grade, she was brutally sexually abused and tortured, multiple times by a group of males, over the course of a few months, resulting in horrific injuries. Making matters worse, she claims she told school officials numerous times she was being sexually harassed and hurt. Rather than engaging in a good faith investigation and helping her, the school tried to cover-up the abuse. The student, represented by the National Women’s Law Center, filed a complaint with the US Department of Education, who did a two year investigation that found “concerns with the adequacy of the Division’s investigation, its analysis of the information collected, and the Division’s apparent treatment of the incidents of alleged harassment as discrete, isolated occurrences rather than addressing the broader issue of a potentially hostile environment at the School.”
In 2019, this same student filed a private law suit against the school board. Yet despite all this history noted in the lawsuit, the school board claimed that she was a phantom, and that therefore, she didn’t have “standing” to sue. Fortunately, a federal appeals court saw through this, explaining that the victim was indeed a “real person” and denied FCPS’ appeal.
Still, this only happened after 51 organizations wrote to the court in support. Had FCPS won, many survivors would have to choose between having their sexual abuse litigated in the public record, easily searchable on Google, or having to forego justice.
3. Chaining Disabled Students and Lying About It
For years, FCPS promised the federal government that it never handcuffed or restrained disabled students. It also claimed it never locked disabled students in rooms, closets, cages, or other confinements. This past school year, we learned that this too, was a lie.
Multiple disabled students sued FCPS, claiming that the district chained them and locked them in rooms alone. One autistic student was locked in rooms and handcuffed hundreds of times, being forced to defecate and urinate on himself as he cried in agony. At the same time, FCPS signed sworn statements to the US Department of Education that said there were zero actions of restraint and seclusions.
Despite these horrific allegations, FCPS claimed that the students suffered no legal injuries. After federal judge Rossie Alston rejected this argument, FCPS scrambled to settle the lawsuit before discovery. However, despite agreeing to new policies and trainings, educators and nonprofits already express concern about the adequacy of the training and whether FCPS will actually follow these new policies.
4. Leaking Survivors’ Confidential Information and Then Filing a SLAAP Suit Against Activists
After FCPS denied disability accommodations for a couple of its students, their parents, Debra Tisler and Callie Oettinger, filed a records request to learn why Fairfax spends millions of taxpayer dollars on litigation attorneys each year but can’t provide basic disability accommodations to their students. As part of this records request, FCPS leaked thousands of confidential, unredacted documents. These included sensitive information from the sexual abuse and the chaining of disabled student cases above.
Rather than working with the parents making the records request in good faith to redact the documents, FCPS, through its lawyer Ryan Bates of Hunton Andrews, filed a frivolous lawsuit to intimidate and silence the activists.
A judge rejected FCPS’ lawsuit and explained that Bates asked for the “broadest” unconstitutional restraint on speech you could get. Before dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Gardiner called Bates’ arguments “almost frivolous.” FCPS then voluntarily dismissed the suit before the parents filed a counter-suit. All of this cost taxpayers at least $115,000.
As a result of this slimy action, the Department of Education opened another investigation into FCPS because of Bates’ actions, including possible retaliation for complaining about disability discrimination. Good going, Ryan!
5. Covering-Up A Potentially Religious Motivated Attack Against a Muslim Student
In December, a female Muslim student at George C. Marshall High School was assaulted by two male students. According to the student’s lawyers, two male students attacked the young girl, ripping off her hijab after calling her racial slurs and drawing “Xs” around Islamic symbols like the crescent and the moon. As a result, the student was brought to the hospital, and suffers from ongoing emotional trauma from the attack.
Rather than investigating the incident fairly, school officials gave the girl an in school suspension. They then worked with City of Fairfax Police to conduct a questionable investigation and within just two days, the police department released public statements that there was no hate crime, despite failing to interview key witnesses.
As a result, 35,000 citizens signed a petition, Marshall High School had a school-wide walk out, and Delegate Ibraheem Samirah wrote a strongly worded letter to the School Board. Despite this, the School Board has still not acknowledged the incident, nor put in place measures to prevent such hate-based attacks or better respond to future incidences.
6. An Adult Sex-Offender Breaking into Chantilly High School and Sexually Assaulting a Student
As the caption states, a 22-year-old man broke into Chantilly High School and sexually abused a student. This is disturbing as it is part of a larger trend of sex offenders and traffickers breaking into Fairfax County Schools and hurting students.
FCPS has acknowledged that it has a human trafficking problem, explaining that victims have been identified in every high school and many elementary and middle schools. What this means is that sex traffickers have lured young girls, groomed them through manipulation and abuse, and forced them into the sex trade. In past years, officials from the Fairfax Police have suggested that as many as 800 students have been victimized. Just last year, a convicted human trafficker was arrested trying to enter an elementary school.
Despite this issue, FCPS has failed to implement comprehensive policies to prevent human trafficking. In fact, the school district continues to slow walk basic physical safety measures, like security cameras, building badges, and self-locking doors.
Taking this back to the Chantilly High School assault, the fact an adult could enter a school unchallenged and sexually abuse a student shows FCPS’ ongoing failures at keeping children safe from the horrors of sexual abuse and trafficking.
7. Hazing At West Potomac High School
West Potomac High School has long had a hazing problem. Several years ago, a few baseball coaches were criminally charged with hazing-related crimes. Now, a student suffered injuries after coaches made the student run a “gauntlet”— where a tunnel of students pummeled the student with blows to his body as he ran through.
FCPS initially claimed it fired three coaches. Yet later reports emerged that the coaches merely resigned the position, and may in fact still be on the county’s payroll. While the school’s Student Resource Officer (SRO) claimed to investigate, it does not appear the authorities have filed any charges as of publication.
This is especially troubling given FCPS’ repeated failures to comply with VA’s mandatory reporter law. In the past two years, no less than six school employees have been criminally charged with failing to report child abuse. It’s unclear what, if any, culpability principal Tanganyika Millard may have had in this situation.
8. FCPS’ Continued Use of Law Firm Hunton Andrews Kurth
Completing our list is FCPS’ use of the law firm Hunton Andrews Kurth, a “white shoe” law firm with a checkered civil rights history: the firm’s predecessor entity argued in favor of public school segregation in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that sparked the Civil Rights Movement.
Today, Hunton Andrews is the same firm that spearheads all the anti-civil rights activities listed above — leading the charge for the “one free rape” rule for Title IX, arguing to restrict child sex crime victims’ use of pseudonyms, and claiming that restrained autistic children forced to defecate on themselves have not suffered legal injuries.
Lawyers are supposed to provide their clients with objective advice. Instead, Hunton Andrew’s lawyers — Ryan Bates, Soni Rewari, Elbert Lin, Perie Reiko Koyoma, Kelly Oeltjburns, and Stuart Raphael (now a Virginia appellate judge) view FCPS, and by extension, the county’s taxpayers, as a listless cash-cow. In the past year, FCPS paid over $4.5 million to Hunton Andrews. Instead of continuing its expensive, scorched-earth litigation against parents and students, FCPS should instead work with counsel that will help the school district fix its shoddy civil rights record.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning a few dishonorable mentions. A former FCPS teachers was charged with sexually abusing multiple students, while another was caught with child porn. A school bus driver inflicted a physical injury on a three-year-old autistic child, which required hospitalization. All these raise questions about FCPS’ compliance with the state’s mandatory reporter laws.
2021-2022 has been an exceptionally bad year for civil rights in FCPS. Fairfax County Public Schools is a large and well-funded school system that many view as a leader in public education. FCPS needs to do everything it can to keep students safe from abuse and harassment and hold school officials accountable when they fail. Unfortunately, the record shows little accountability at FCPS. When school districts are unable to protect students and hold bureaucrats accountable, state and federal authorities need to take charge. It is abundantly clear that civil rights investigations and policy changes are needed at FCPS.