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A former Denver Public Schools student is suing the district and employees at Denver Center for International Studies at Montbello, alleging she was raped during a school trip to France after a DPS chaperone wrongfully housed the 17-year-old girl with young men and failed to properly report the girl’s alleged assault.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, uses the pseudonym “Jane Doe” to protect the identity of the teenage victim, who is now 19 years old.
The lawsuit alleges the school district and some of its employees violated Title IX and mandatory reporting laws, prohibiting the Denver student from accessing the education she deserved.
“This could have been so easily prevented,” said Eudoxie Dickey, one of the attorneys representing the former student. “This is a systemic issue for DPS. It’s so important that DPS understands how to prevent things like this from happening in the future, but if they keep letting these things occur and then fail to investigate, it just seems that they don’t really care about their female students’ safety, and that needs to change.”
A spokesman for Denver Public Schools did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Doe, along with other DCIS Montbello students, had plans to attend a 2017 DPS spring break trip to France where students stayed with host families. When Doe contacted her host family and realized they had a son and another male exchange student staying in the house rather than the daughter she was originally told, the lawsuit said Doe met with trip adviser Roxanne Stern.
DPS policies said female students could only be housed with families who had daughters and vice versa.
“Despite her knowledge that this housing assignment was in blatant violation of strict DPS rules and policies, Defendant Stern made no efforts to ensure that she complied with DPS rules or policies, which were in place to protect students’ safety,” the lawsuit read, noting that Stern felt there was no time to switch arrangements and that Doe “just had to live” with it.
Stern could not immediately be reached for a request for comment.
Stern didn’t inform anyone before the trip of Doe’s housing arrangements, the lawsuit said.
According to the document, when the two-week trip began in March 2017, the male host student Doe was staying with immediately began to “groom” Doe for sexual purposes — initiating “unwanted physical touch” he claimed were French customs and telling the teen girl that she was afraid to have fun and behave like her peers.
On the last night of her stay with the host family, Doe said the male host student raped her as she tried pushing him off during a movie, later “breaking down in tears and feeling disgusted, severely emotionally distressed and violated.”
Doe told Stern about the assault.
Aside from telling Doe that she was sorry and the incident was not her fault, the lawsuit said Stern — a mandatory reporter of child abuse or neglect under Colorado law and DPS policies — took no action to report the situation or offer to find Doe medical or psychological help. Doe, Stern and the rest of the students continued on with their trip.
When the trip was over and students returned to school, Stern told DCIS Montbello Principal Julie Catherine Murgel about the alleged sexual assault. Murgel called a meeting between herself, Doe’s mother, Stern, a DCIS dean and a social worker.
When Doe’s mother said she wanted justice for what had been done to her daughter, the lawsuit said Murgel responded that it would be difficult because the alleged assault happened in another country with different laws.
The lawsuit said Stern was “either terminated or forced” to resign for being “at fault in causing (Doe’s) sexual assault and then unreasonably delaying notifying anyone.”
However, Stern was rehired a year later at the Denver School of Science and Technology.
“By its decision to rehire Defendant Stern, DPS ratified her outrageous conduct which resulted in a reasonably foreseeable sexual assault upon Plaintiff during an official DPS school activity,” the lawsuit said.
DPS did not immediately confirm whether Stern was still teaching within the district, although her contact information was listed as a civics teacher at DSST: Green Valley Ranch High School.
Dickey said that the former student remains traumatized from the alleged rape and mishandling.
“It really hindered her ability to take advantage of her educational opportunities,” Dickey said. “She got the lowest grades of her school career after that. She didn’t want to shower. She didn’t want to eat. She didn’t want to go to school. She didn’t want to go to cheerleading practice.”
Doe is seeking an award of damages along with a request for DPS to rectify its Title IX and mandatory reporting training. Doe wants the Denver Police Department or a similarly-qualified agency to conduct an annual independent review of the school district’s compliance with mandatory reporting laws.
“This really isn’t about money for her,” Dickey said. “She wants to make sure that DPS is held accountable for the situation they placed her in and make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else. This is something no 17-year-old — or anyone — should have to go through. It will affect her for the rest of her life.”