D.C. Principal Mocked Student’s Sexual Assault Claim, Lawsuit Says
In June 2017, a freshman at Roosevelt High School in Northwest Washington reported to Principal Aqueelha James that she had been sexually assaulted by a male student in the school’s bathroom. Describing the incident, she told the principal that the student forced her into a bathroom stall, and began kissing. He then tried to put his hand up her dress and inappropriately touched her buttocks. Luckily, she managed to escape but not before he managed to leave a hickey on her neck. The girl cited the hickey as an evidence of the assault.
James, during a meeting with the victim, her mother and at least two other school officials, at first expressed concern over the accusation, according to the audio recording of the conversation. “I’m here to support and be of assistance,” James told the girl and her mother. He promised a swift and thorough investigation, saying, “I don’t like the idea that your daughter has been assaulted sexually. It is a crime.”
But when the girl left the room and her mother went out to comfort her, leaving her cell phone behind, the recording shows a change in the tone of the principal while discussing the matter with the other two school officials.
She began by saying that she was “sick of her and her mom” referring to previous unrelated complaints made by the mother, including one in which she complained about the destruction of one of the girl’s projects. She said that this is her opportunity to try to “embarrass her ass.”
“This is a bunch of bullshit,” James added.
She also mocked the girl for the kind of dress she was wearing.
Describing her nefarious plans to embarrass the girl, she said:
“This…is going to compromise her. And that’s why I’m going to go the extra mile and call MPD. That’s why I’m going to do all of this…because I’m sick of her…So I’m going to call MPD, I’m going to have a long, drawn-out email just so that I can embarrass her.”
The mother is now suing Principal James and the D.C. government in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The lawsuit that she filed states that James and other school officials responsible for the investigation did not investigate the sexual assault allegations adequately and that the principal, owing to a personal vendetta, defamed the child by questioning her credibility in front of the police officers.
D.C. Public Schools released a statement Wednesday saying that an internal investigation had been conducted into James’s handling of the sexual assault allegation. However, school officials refused to disclose the findings.
In a statement released it said that “DCPS does not tolerate sexual misconduct or harassment in our schools. We take the safety and security of all of our students seriously, and while we cannot discuss the specifics of personnel matters, when the issue at Roosevelt was brought to our attention we launched an investigation and took action.”
On Thursday morning, LaToya Foster, a spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, said that after reviewing the recording, the mayor had directed school officials to re-examine James’s conduct.
“The safety of our students is paramount, and we expect all who work with our students to be compassionate and supportive,” Foster said. “After reviewing the tape, the matter will be reviewed further by DCPS.”
Schools officials did not dispute the authenticity of the recording.
The lawsuit and recording offer a rare view of school administrators privately discussing a student’s sexual assault complaint. It also offers a valuable insight into how less concerned school administrators often are to bring the perpetrators to justice, and their attempts to hush away the incident.
Schools are required by Title IX — a federal law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding — to vigorously investigate allegations of sexual violence on campus. But in recent years educators have come under fire for not doing enough. Schools often say that they don’t have to investigate because the police are doing it. But that’s not true, schools are required by law to investigate.
The lawsuit comes at a time when debates over sexual assault victims’ credibility are at the forefront of national politics, with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh facing serious allegations of sexual misconduct that he allegedly committed decades ago.