SHOSHONE — The Shoshone School District says in court documents filed Friday it knew about “sexual acts” between two teenagers in April in a school computer lab but properly investigated and didn’t kick the victim out of school, as has been alleged in a lawsuit against the district.
Attorneys for the district deny many claims made in the federal suit filed Dec. 27 in U.S. District Court by the family of a 13-year-old Shoshone Middle School girl who reported being raped by a 17-year-old classmate.
The complaint alleges the girl and her mother were told she could not stay at the school following what was described as a violent rape by a prominent student athlete.
The boy, who was a high school junior, pleaded guilty in November to eight counts of felony lewd conduct in juvenile court and continued to attend classes.
The lawsuit alleges the school district had a “deliberate indifferent response,” failed to appropriately investigate and respond, and subjected the victim to a “hostile environment and sexual discrimination that denied her an education in the District.”
The girl, who is now 14, lives in Gooding and is attending high school in the Gooding School District, according to her mother and lawyer.
Student safety is among the highest priorities of the Shoshone School District, the district said in its answer to the complaint. “When the District’s efforts in service of that mission are falsely maligned, the District must set forth the facts.”
The complaint from the family uses the words “rape” and “forcible rape,” which the district said are “allegations of specific crimes and highly charged words,” used as “merely an attempt to inflame and sensationalize this matter.”
Shoshone Superintendent Rob Waite told the Times-News on Tuesday the core allegation — “the idea that school district employees would discover a brutal rape caught on security cameras” but not respond or investigate — is “just preposterous.”
He said he understands it’s a very serious case. But the allegations, he said, are “offensive to our employees. I think it’s honestly offensive to victims of violence.”
The discovery process will begin soon in the case, Waite said, adding he looks forward to federal court proceedings because “I believe that as this case goes on, the facts will be vetted.”
He said he’s very confident that when the facts come out, it will show school employees acted appropriately.
About the school district's response in court documents, “they’ve just denied everything,” said E. Lee Schlender of Mountain Home, the attorney for the 13-year-old girl’s family. But that’s common, he said Tuesday.
Once discovery starts later this month — which will include interviews of school employees, and looking through records and emails — more information will surface, Schlender said. “The proof usually comes out.”
He said he hasn’t seen anything so far to suggest the school district “is not going to have to admit the basic facts. I don’t foresee there being a lot of denial once they’re under oath.”
In its response in court documents, the school district admits on the two days in question in April, the boy and girl “engaged in sexual activity in the computer lab at Shoshone High School and that the door to the computer lab locks automatically.” School officials say they viewed a video of the incident and contacted police.
The district denies other claims, including a statement in the complaint that the boy “violently without her consent, forcibly had sexual intercourse.”
The district also denies allegations the boy wasn’t jailed except for a short period of home detention and that the victim suffered severe physical and mental distress. It also denies a claim in the complaint that the girl was forced to leave the school and then not provided with weekly homework assignments.
Within 10 days of the incident in the computer lab, the school administrator held a meeting with the girl and her mother and presented two options for schooling, the lawsuit says: stop attending Shoshone schools “with no further remedial action of any kind” or be homeschooled, with the school providing homework assignments weekly.
The actions of the school district “do not rise to the level of a deprivation of a constitutionally protected right,” according to the response, and the district at all times complied with federal law.
The plaintiffs — the 13-year-old girl and her family — “may have been guilty of conduct at the time of and in connection with the matters, events, and damages alleged, which conduct proximately caused and contributed to said events and resultant damages, if any,” according to the response.
In the response, the school district asks for a jury trial, but “pray that Plaintiffs take nothing by this action,” and dismiss the lawsuit and pay for attorney fees.
A court date hasn’t been set.
*This story was updated Feb. 6 to include comments from the Shoshone School District superintendent and the 13-year-old girl's attorney, given after the original story was published.