The Department of Education’s office for Civil Rights is investigating a Decatur, Georgia school district for how it chose to handle allegations that a 5-year-old girl was sexually assaulted in an elementary school bathroom after a district-wide policy was enacted that allows male students to use the girl’s bathroom.
On November 16th, 2017, the 5-year-old daughter of Pascha Thomas came to her mother complaining of vaginal pain. Her daughter then went on to explain that she had been sexually assaulted by a male classmate while in the girl’s bathroom at Oakhurst Elementary School in Decatur, Georgia earlier that week.
The 5-year-old recalled asking the teacher if she could be excused from the classroom to use the restroom. When she came out of the bathroom stall, the child said a male classmate who had followed her into the bathroom stood waiting for her.
The male student identifies as female and is allowed full access to all female bathrooms, locker rooms, and shower areas thanks to the school district’s transgender-friendly policy.
“When I dropped my child off at school, I never would think that she would be sexually assaulted in a bathroom by another little boy,” Thomas said in an interview produced by Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal nonprofit representing her.
“She was pulling up her pants when one of her classmates came into the bathroom – a little boy. She tried to leave out of the bathroom. The little boy pushed her against the bathroom stall, basically pinned her up against there. She asked him to stop, he wouldn’t,” Thomas said, describing the sexual assault that happened next.
“She asked him to stop and stated several times that it hurt. He refused. Once he was done she went to class,” she explained.
A redacted version of the narrative complaint states that he allegedly “pushed her against a wall, pushed his hand between her legs, and repeatedly felt and poked at her genitals while she struggled and called out for him to stop. No one came to help.”
When Thomas reported her daughter’s story to school officials the next day, they referred her to the Decatur Police Department.
“I told the principal that I was demanding that the little boy be taken out the classroom. At that point she refused and said she would not take him out the classroom,” said Thomas.
The ADF says the district “retaliated against the student’s parent for reporting the sexual harassment” by identifying the mother as the “responsible party” in their referral of the incident to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.
The DFCS then turned around and investigated Thomas because of the district’s report against her. DFCS investigators interrogated Pascha and her children separately as well as contacting friends and family members before dropping the investigation entirely-something her attorneys say they should never have had to go through.
“I’m not sure why they’re discounting her account of this assault other than that it is contrary to the narrative that they want to push about the transgender restroom policies,” Holcomb said.
WATCH Pascha Thomas’s Story:
The district Superintendent, David Dude, told The Hill in a statement that it “is committed to supporting all students.”
“We are aware of the unfounded allegations made by the Alliance Defending Freedom,” Dude’s statement read. “We fully disagree with their characterization of the situation and are addressing it with the Office of Civil Rights.”
Dude added that he could not comment further, given that this is a pending legal matter.
The ADF says this would never have happened in any capacity if the school district had not introduced the policy.
The policy change was enacted shortly after the Obama administration mailed letters out to every school district in the nation in May 2016 that threatened to withdraw federal funding unless schools did away with separate bathrooms for boys and girls.
Dude, without informing the students’ parents, sent a district-wide email to staff ordering them to allow male students to use the girl’s restrooms, locker rooms and participate in girl’s athletics.
The superintendent notified the public for the first time about his district’s bathroom policy in a Facebook post on February 27th, 2017. In the post Dude states that even though the Trump administration reversed the policy changed outline in a letter sent out by Obama Department of Education officials the previous year, the school district would continue to keep the policy allowing male students to use girls’ bathrooms and locker rooms.
“This rapid change in direction from the federal government can cause confusion for our staff, students, and families, so I feel it is important to share how City Schools of Decatur addresses the needs of students related to gender identity,” Dude posted on Facebook along with a WordPress document explaining the decision.
“This situation was both deeply tragic and avoidable,” said ADF Legal Counsel Christiana Holcomb. “Schools have a duty to protect the privacy and safety of all students and Decatur Schools clearly failed this young girl. The current approach that many schools are taking of passing these transgender bathroom policies isn’t working; they fail to provide basic privacy or ensure the safety of all students.”
Pascha Thomas has enrolled her daughter in another school, though she remains traumatized and will need counseling for many years to come.
Follow Haley Kennington on Twitter: @kenningtonsays
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