Supposedly interviewed final witness last month – and no update since
Politics have delayed justice for a five-year-old girl who was allegedly sexually assaulted by a genderfluid student at school, according to the attorney for the girl’s mother.
There’s no other reasonable explanation for why the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights has yet to finish an investigation it opened 14 months ago, Vernadette Broyles told The College Fix in an email Tuesday.
Broyles filed the complaint against Georgia’s Decatur City School District on behalf of Pascha Thomas and her daughter in May 2018. OCR headquarters transferred it to the Atlanta office, which opened an investigation Sept. 14, 2018.
The complaint targets the district’s previously undisclosed policy allowing students to use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity, even if that identity changes regularly.
It also alleges that the school district retaliated against Thomas for reporting the alleged assault, by reporting her to the Division of Family and Children Services. The alleged retaliation also had racial and socioeconomic overtones, given that the district knew the African-American mother was homeless in the recent past.
In a phone interview Oct. 29, Broyles (left) said OCR was in the process of interviewing its last witness, but it was still unclear how much longer the investigation was going to take.
Three weeks later, there is no further update from the feds, the attorney told The Fix Tuesday. Thomas “remains in the dark” about whom Atlanta’s OCR office has interviewed “or where they are in their investigation.”
If the feds don’t provide details “without further delay,” Broyles said, her client and the public will conclude that “politics has stalled this investigation” of a school district that lets biological males “be present unsupervised” in the girls’ bathroom.
‘The statute of limitations for some things had passed’
Broyles publicized the apparently stalled investigation in an interview with the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal podcast a month ago. She told host Rachel del Guidice that the district drafted and implemented the gender identity policy “in the dark” in 2017.
It allows students to enter bathrooms, locker rooms, showers and other sex-based facilities without regard to biological sex. Broyles said “by the time we caught hold of” the new policy, “the statute of limitations for some things had passed.”
Thomas’s daughter was sexually assaulted in the bathroom just a month after some “highly publicized” board meetings, where officials had been warned that boys would use the new policy “for mischievous purposes” in girls’ facilities, Broyles said.
The biologically male genderfluid student allegedly shoved Thomas’s daughter against the wall and touched her genitals, “causing her both pain and fear,” while she told him to stop, according to the May 2018 complaint.
The assault “was a foreseeable result of the Policy,” which discriminates against the 5-year-old girl “based on her sex.” It violates “the bodily privacy of girls” and fosters “an intimidating, unsafe, and hostile environment for them” going forward.
A federal judge ruled this spring that girls have no right to “visual bodily privacy” in schools, even as he allowed a lawsuit on the same subject to continue against another school district.
Broyles’ complaint says the Decatur policy relies “solely on a student’s self-declared (and perhaps fluid) ‘identity,’ without any requirement of certification by a psychiatrist or other physician.” The only thing a teacher can ask a male student in the girls’ bathroom, according to the complaint, is “Are you in the correct restroom?”
Mom kept daughter out of school when it refused to protect her
When Thomas reported the assault to the district, the school “realized they had liability” in this case and wanted the story to go away, Broyles told The Fix last month.
“One way to do so is to report this mother, who is of lower socioeconomic status and who is African American, to Child Protective Services,” the attorney said.
The school was aware of Thomas’s socioeconomic status because her children were covered by the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, which provides for “the education of children and youth experiencing homelessness.” However, according to Broyles, the family was no longer homeless when the district called CPS on Thomas.
Even though Thomas’s daughter described in detail what happened in the bathroom, the school immediately contacted DFCS instead of investigating her allegations. And while it mentioned the alleged assault in the report, the school also said the family didn’t have the resources to cover the child’s basic needs, Broyles said.
When the school refused to protect the girl from being “confronted by boys in the girl’s restroom” again, or even remove the genderfluid student from her classes, Thomas kept her daughter out of school for a week, according to the complaint.
“This case was exposing the very risk that we were warning them about,” Broyles told del Guidice on the podcast. “They really wanted … this mother to go away” and treated Thomas “so horribly, so shamefully.” At the time of the podcast, Superintendent David Dude had yet to meet with Thomas, Broyles said.
Consider bringing complaints against ‘conscripted speech pronoun usage’
The attorney made a “strategic decision” to file a federal regulatory complaint, so the family would not have to “go through the rigors and the terror and the horrors of a federal court litigation system,” Broyles told del Guidice.
She was also encouraged because President Trump “had changed the atmosphere in the Department of Education for these kinds of complaints, and they were receptive.”
The regulatory process has not worked out the way Broyles expected, however.
“We have sent a list of fact witnesses (both staff employed by the school district as well as private citizens with relevant information) to the Atlanta OCR investigators for them to interview,” Broyles told The Fix Tuesday.
She also gave the feds “DFCS documents, hospital records, a forensic interview of the victim, and other documents,” she continued. Investigators have “everything they needed to establish that this sexual assault did in fact occur in the Oakhurst Elementary School.”
Asked if she has seen an uptake in these kinds of cases, Broyles said she is working on another restroom assault case but declined to give details. Her hope is to “reform the practices that contributed to the way this child [Thomas’s daughter] and her parents were discriminated against in this school system.”
In the meantime, she gave listeners of the Daily Signal podcast tips on how they can protect their children from school policies.
Parents should submit an open records request if they suspect anything is being done without their knowledge. Her firm offers open records templates, she said. Parents also “might have a cause of action” under state law to undo policies that were changed without notifying parents.
An OCR complaint or federal lawsuit could be worthwhile if the school goes beyond its academic and administrative roles, Broyles said. This includes when a school starts to “directly interfere” with parents’ decision-making authority over their children, or “coerce children to affirm a belief system that’s contrary to their family’s beliefs.”
She also highlighted when schools have “conscripted speech pronoun usage”:
We have captive audiences that are being conscripted to affirm a false worldview, or certainly a worldview that is legitimately contrary to many parents’ beliefs and understanding of science, and that schools have overstepped their bounds and we need to hold them accountable through actions.