The Mountain View-Los Altos High School District paid a $80,000 settlement to the family of a former student who claimed the district failed to properly respond when she was allegedly raped off-campus.
The settlement, made in March, comes nearly three years after the victim, a female student who attended the district's Middle College alternative school program, said she was sexually assaulted by a Los Altos High School student at a party in San Jose. She told the San Francisco Chronicle in a lengthy investigative report last year that the rape occurred at a drug- and alcohol-fueled party hosted by a student's father in multiple hotel suites.
The victim filed the claim seeking $2 million from the district, according to Superintendent Jeff Harding.
The victim filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in June 2016 following the incident, claiming that the district failed to take a proactive approach in informing her family of its rights under Title IX, did not investigate the alleged rape and did not provide accommodations that should have been afforded to her under the civil rights law.
Despite the $80,000 payout, Harding maintains that the district did not misstep in handling the case. District officials say they did not receive requests for accommodations until graduation, when the family asked that the alleged perpetrator be prohibited from attending the graduation ceremony, and were in close communication with the family after being notified of the alleged rape.
The district's legal counsel also concluded that no investigation was needed, given that the reported sexual assault occurred at an off-campus weekend party in San Jose and that there was no "nexus" between the two students, who attended different schools. Harding told the Voice in Feb. 2017 that the district had no legal authority to discipline the alleged perpetrator, given the circumstances.
The decision to pay the $80,000 settlement on March 30 was based on recommendations by the district's insurance company, Harding said, and is not an admission of wrongdoing.
"We thought we handled this situation appropriately and felt that, given the circumstances, this was the best decision in the interest of the school district," he said.
The Office for Civil Rights is responsible for ensuring school districts follow federal civil rights laws, including Title IX, which protects students from gender discrimination at school. The law specifically calls on districts to provide safeguards for student victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault, including providing accommodations to prevent victims from encountering their assailants while on campus.
The OCR requested information on the district's response to the alleged off-campus rape shortly after the former student filed a complaint with the federal agency in 2016, but there has been no follow-up, Harding said.
"They requested facts and we have not heard from them since," he said.