It’s been a year since a pair of former Skyline High School (SHS) students filed a lawsuit against the Issaquah School District (ISD) for not protecting them from bullying after they reported a sexual assault by two star football players.
The lawsuit was filed October 24, 2018, and was scheduled to see trial Oct. 21 of this year. That trial has been delayed.
In October of 2014, the sexual assault survivor was dating one of the school’s “star” football players during her junior year. One day, the survivor went to her boyfriend’s house. She didn’t know another football player would be there. She said her boyfriend helped his friend hold her down and sexually assault her.
The survivor reported the rape within days of its occurrence. The football players later pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation and were court ordered to stay away from Skyline High School.
According to the survivor in the lawsuit against ISD, the school failed to investigate her claims because they allegedly didn’t want to risk losing their top players and sacrifice their chances of winning another state championship. (ISD has denied the allegations. See below.)
Since the court removal of the assailants, the survivor claims students and staff bullied and harassed her, for making the players transfer to a different school. The lawsuit alleges the district also refused to investigate the abuse the survivor and her sister endured at the school, but instead became “proactive for the football players.”
“After the court intervened and ordered the assailants out of Skyline High School, the district placed them in one of their other schools and allowed them to pursue their sports,” the lawsuit said. “Defendant principal Donna Hood directed her staff to hide the court order from other personnel and even other schools, and authorized letters of recommendation for the assailants.”
The survivor and her younger sister say they were incessantly bullied and harassed at school, at school events, and in the community by football players and students. Abuse included the girls’ home vandalized with eggs, feces, paintballs and, ultimately, a firebomb. The abuse spread to social media as well when a football coach publicly endorsed another student’s tweet for the girls to transfer from the school. The family endured the abuse, determined not to let it drive them away, but they had to flee and live in an undisclosed location.
The survivor graduated from SHS in 2016. The assailants and students allegedly turned their attention to the survivor’s younger sister, who was a cheerleader. The lawsuit claims one of the survivor’s assailants harassed the sister during football games while she was cheering. She claims the harassment went unacknowledged by the school and she ultimately transferred to another school.
Four years after the initial sexual assault, the sisters are suing the district for failing to protect them as minors and failing to follow state law on bullying.
ISD denies allegations
On Nov. 29, 2018, ISD submitted a formal answer in court denying all allegations of a lawsuit filed in October 2018 by a pair of former students.
“The rampant inaccuracy of allegations in the complaint is disappointing, especially given that a significant and extended amount of communication took place with plaintiff’s mother on their behalf that directly contradicts statements made herein and the fact that this lawsuit appears to flow from off-campus events outside the control of the district,” wrote the district’s defense attorney Charles Leitch of Patterson Buchanan Fobes & Leitch.
The ISD “denies the allegations and affirmatively states that its staff acted quickly and with integrity while following all federal and state laws as well as district procedures. According to the school district’s answer to the complaint, the district and its administrators provided support for (the survivor) and responded to reported behavior from other students,” ISD wrote in a press release.
The “district followed court-issued protective orders against both of (the survivor’s) assailants and took pre-emptive action to keep the assailants from Skyline High School functions,” the district’s answer said.
ISD said it did not have the authority to remove the assailants from the school as the incident occurred off campus and the conduct was only alleged at the time. ISD deferred any investigation into the off-campus allegations in favor of the police investigation and criminal proceedings.
As for the bullying and harassment that ensued following the removal of the assailants, ISD said it developed a support plan for the survivor and the survivor’s sister while the allegations were pending. Claimed actions included permitting the survivor to park on campus in a visitor spot rather than a spot across the street in order to increase supervision, and responding to negative social media posts by other students — the district warned other students against further posts and threatened discipline, yet the district noted it did not have jurisdiction as the posting occurred outside of school. ISD also claimed the support plan for the sisters included the two students to “have check-ins with the school counselors and staff shadows or escorts between their classes throughout the weekday.”
In the ISD answer to the complaint, it denies all allegations of failing to protect the two students and declares the district followed any and all legal procedures.
Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, the plaintiffs’ attorney, said the trial date was rescheduled for Feb. 2, 2020. However, due to heavy trial schedules on both sides, a trial may not happen until mid-March of 2020.
“Trial date delays are common. We haven’t even gotten to depositions yet,” Ward said.
Ward said she anticipates depositions to take place late November.
While the trial date has been delayed, she said the case is still going forward and that this is an issue that needs to be talked about.
“This is happening at the college and professional levels,” she said. “But this is the first time it’s being addressed at the high school level — which is the most vulnerable group… And we want to have that discussion.”