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Seattle Schools To Convene Task Force To Review Handling Of Sex Assault Claims

Kyle Stokes
Garfield High School alumna Sylvie Nemeth protests the district's handling of a 2012 case of alleged sexual assault at a meeting of the Seattle School Board on Aug. 20, 2014.

Seattle school leaders will convene a task force to review the district's handling of sexual assault cases, acknowledging in a statement late Wednesday that "substantial work is required to bring the district into compliance" with federal laws designed to protect victims of sexual violence in schools.

The move is Seattle Public Schools' latest response to criticism of how district employees handled the case of a Garfield High School student who alleged a classmate raped her during a school field trip in 2012.

Federal law requires school employees to immediately investigate a claim of sexual assault, but the district's inquiry into the 2012 incident didn't begin until seven months after the female student came forward. Prosecutors didn't file charges in the case and the alleged victim and her family have left the state.

Interim Superintendent Larry Nyland said late last month the Garfield student's case was "of great concern" to district officials, promising "vigorous action in terms of improving our practice." Before the announcement of the task force, the incident had already spurred district officials to redraw its response plans to sexual assault incidents and offer new training to administrators for handling sexual assault. 

Critics, including the parents of the Garfield student, have charged the district's actions are geared more toward saving face than to bringing about improvement. They've said the district's new response procedures are little more than "a plan to mitigate bad press" and that few enforcement mechanisms exist to ensure staff comply with the guidelines. 

Teachers, students, staff, principals, parents and sexual assault experts will make up the district's "roughly 12-member" task force. Applications are due on Sept. 26.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.