By Sean Lee
A female student at Gunn High School is seeking legal action to stop the Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) from reducing the punishment on her assailant.
According to a petition filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, PAUSD’s original punishment included banning the attacker from participating in Gunn High School’s robotics team, in which the survivor herself is a member. This measure, among others, was meant to keep the two from having any contact.
However, PAUSD — which has been under U.S. Department of Education scrutiny since 2017, when it was accused of failing to comprehensively and promptly respond to sexual harassment reports — informed the survivor’s family earlier this month that the attacker would be able to return to the robotics team under the condition that he was accompanied by an escort, and later proposed the attacker and survivor participate in the robotics team on alternating days.
“The district is essentially asking [the girl] to make an impossible choice — to choose either her safety or her access to education,” the survivor’s legal team wrote in the petition.
Pending the outcome of the court proceedings, a judge on Friday granted a stay in the case requiring the male student to remain barred from the robotics team.
The survivor’s petition also includes details of the alleged assault. The female student briefly dated the male student before he forced her to perform a sexual act in January 2018. In June, the survivor filed a complaint under Title IX after the male student allegedly sent text messages about the assault to her and joked about the assault with others.
While the school did not look into the case because the act in question was said to have taken place off campus, a school investigation did find the male student responsible for sexual harassment. An investigator for the school wrote that even if the sexual act between the male and female students was consensual, the male student’s actions would have still been considered sexual harassment.
It is unclear whether the alleged sexual assault was reported to police at any point in time.
“As a school district, our obligation is … to protect the health, safety and well-being of all students,” Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin told the Mercury News. “We have tried really hard to balance the rights and needs of the students involved.”
Citing confidentiality laws, Austin declined to comment on details of the district’s handling of the case.
Contact Sean Lee at seanklee ‘at’ stanford.edu.