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Jane Doe Is Standing up for Herself and Other Teen Dating Violence Survivors
Today, the National Women’s Law Center and our co-counsel DLA Piper filed a lawsuit against Pennridge School District and two of its officials on behalf of a teen dating violence survivor. As her story shows, students experience many different forms of sex-based violence – and are often punished, rather than supported, when they report to their schools. That’s too common at Pennridge, a school we’ve already sued twice before.
Abuse and Harassment
Jane Doe, as our client is called in the lawsuit, was a sophomore at Pennridge High School in Perkasie, Pennsylvania when her boyfriend started abusing her. He was jealous and controlling: he would set “rules” about with whom she could talk and hang out, would keep track of her activities and conversations, and physically attacked Jane. After Jane broke up with him, her ex and his friends escalated their harassment, which took place both on school grounds and over social media. They would call her awful names, threaten to hurt her, and shame her for ending the relationship.
Jane and her family repeatedly reported this physical and verbal harassment to Pennridge officials, asking them to help keep Jane safe. That’s their job, after all. The civil rights law Title IX requires schools to address students’ reports of sex-based harassment, which includes sexual assault and dating violence. Instead of helping Jane, though, the school wrongly said there was nothing it could do. Relying on terrible sex-based stereotypes, a principal called Jane a “drama queen” and “crazy” when she tried to report. When Jane showed him a picture of a bruise her boyfriend had given her, the principal told her to come back when she had more evidence – that is, when her ex hurt her again. As a result of the harassment, Jane often avoided school. Her grades dropped from As and Bs to Cs and Ds. She quit her favorite afterschool club.
Punished, Not Supported
It gets worse. Her junior year, the school told Jane her only option for avoiding the ongoing harassment was to drop out of Pennridge High School and attend its “alterative school” – the place students go when they are expelled. Jane knew she had no choice. She had to protect herself. So she went to the alternative school, known as “Twilight.” Honestly, “school” is too generous a label. At Twilight, Jane received only six hours of instruction a week. Most of the time, she sat at a desk and worked on packets covering materials she had learned years before. Her “teacher” told her to Google the answers. Jane finished her high school education, which should have taken another year and a half, in less than two months.
A Troubling Pattern
Jane is speaking up now because she knows she is not alone. Unfortunately, Pennridge has a long practice of not investigating reports of sex- and race-based harassment and instead pushing survivors who come forward out of school. Sadly, Jane is the third Pennridge alum NWLC represents. Our two other clients from the same school, Modupe Williams and Darbi Goodwin, were also harassed as students. When they reported, administrators told them to leave for Twilight. Instead, Modupe transferred schools; Darbi, an honors student, spent months taking online classes too easy for her. Pennridge let down each student, and in doing so violated the law. Since filing their lawsuits, Modupe, Darbi, and NWLC have heard from many other Pennridge students and alumni who had similar experiences
I’m so inspired by Jane, Modupe, and Darbi’s courage and resilience. They won’t back down until they are confident no other Pennridge student is mistreated like they were. Neither will we.