Plainfield school should have protected girl from sex assault, lawsuit says
PLAINFIELD — School officials should have done more to protect a girl who said she was sexually assaulted in a boys' bathroom, according to a lawsuit she's filed against the Plainfield school district.
The girl — identified only as L.E. in an appellate court decision saying the school district isn't immune from the suit — said she was sexually assaulted in the bathroom on the last day of school in 2011, when she was a freshman. The girl and her mother filed a lawsuit against the Plainfield Public School District, the Plainfield Board of Education and five other defendants, including the two boys involved in the alleged assault.
The girl said there was no supervision during gym class. As a result, she said, boys and girls classes were combined, allowing two boys, identified as A.D. and R.B. to approach her on the school playground. The girl said said she'd had a crush on A.D., but said he had been bullying her, the appellate court panel wrote.
A.D. had told her he wanted to reconcile and the three went into the school without a hall pass, the court wrote.
Once inside the building, L.E. was going to go into the girls room, but R.B. asked her to go into the boys room with them, which she did, the court wrote. The girl said that once they were in the bathroom, "an unwanted sexual encounter took place with both boys, which escalated with one of them, as the other watched," court wrote.
When another student came into the bathroom L.E. fled, the court wrote.
The girl said she told a guidance counselor and a basketball coach what happened in December of the following school year, after she heard R.B. bragging about the incident, the court wrote. She also told her mother at the same time, at which point the principal and superintendent, as well as local police and DYFS got involved, according to the court.
No criminal charges were filed against the boys.
"Shortly after her report, L.E. left school and was hospitalized for extended periods due to mental illness," the court wrote. "Plaintiff contends the assault triggered and exacerbated her condition."
When the original lawsuit was filed, a trial court ruled that the school district and its employees were protected by the Tort Claims Act, which provides immunity from public entities and employees for "failure to provide police protection services," and "failure to provide sufficient police protection service," the decision recounts.
But in its decision, the appellate panel ruled that the defendants were in fact not immune.
"Our courts have consistently held that school officials have a duty to supervise children in their care," the court wrote.
The judges also wrote that supervision of children in the school extends to "foreseeable dangers," that "arise from the careless acts or intentional transgressions of others." They ruled the "school personnel's supervisory responsibilities may extend to the prevention of unwanted sexual encounters between students."
The appellate panel remanded the lawsuit back to be heard by the lower court. But the appellate court agreed with the trial court that L.E. hadn't shown the school didn't adequately respond to her report of the incident the next year, and agreed to dismiss the portion of the lawsuit alleging so.
A spokesperson for the Plainfield district said "we do not comment on open cases."