In a rare move by educators who normally stay mum when it comes to students, the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District responded to a series of public claims made by the family of a 15-year-old Saratoga High School student who committed suicide after she was allegedly sexually assaulted and cyber bullied.
The four-page release issued Wednesday was set up like an FAQ and addressed many questions that have been asked by news agencies and the public since NBC Bay Area broke this high-profile story last week. The unusual press release also addressed a formal claim the girl's family filed against the school district, saying that school leaders didn't do enough to prevent the bullying and didn't do enough to discipline the teenage boys.
The 15-year-old hanged herself on Sept. 10, a about a week after she was allegedly sexually assaulted at a house party on Labor Day where she had gotten drunk and passed out on a bed. Photos of the alleged assault were reportedly taken and shared among classmates, adding to the girl's distress, her family's attorney, Bob Allard has said. Three 16-year-olds were arrested last week on sexual battery charges - seven months after the party.
NBC Bay Area doesn't normally identify victims of sexual assault or suicide, but have used the girl’s name in this report with her parents’ permission. They are hoping the story will help prevent something like this from every happening to anyone else.
The statement sent by Supt. Bob Mistele is the first time the school district defended Saratoga High School's actions in the wake of Audrie Pott's death.
Some of the points the district addressed include:
- School officials did not know anything about the alleged sexual assault or photos that may have been shared until after the girl's death. "Some students reported to Saratoga High employees about an alleged assault on her at an off-campus party and that some photographs were being shared among students" after her death, the statement read. "We have been unable to verify the extent to which any photographic images may have been shared on campus or on the Internet before or after her suicide that may have contributed to her feeling embarrassed or harassed," the district's statement read.
- The school had not made comments earlier because "all indications show this was not a school-related incident; it was a private situation for the families involved."
- School counseling records show Audrie did not pursue counseling after the alleged assault. The district contends that bullying was never a subject of conversation when school employees met with Audrie's parents months prior to her death.
- The boys weren't expelled or disciplined - other than removed from the football team - because state law bars school districts from expelling or suspending students solely on "alleged behavior outside school." At this point, the school district said the boys' parents have voluntarily agreed not to have their sons - who were taken into custody at juvenile hall - return to school until the matter is resolved.
The Pott family vehemently disputes these claims, and Allard said the family was full of "disgust and dismay" over it. They have said their daughter was bullied at the school months before the assault and that the school district was negligent because it failed to act when the family reported the bullying last spring.
The release came on the day Pott family attorney Robert Allard announced the family had filed a claim against the district "primarily to preserve the family's rights to future legal action."
The family has until next September to file a lawsuit.
Bay City News contributed to this report.