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The mother of Dallas ISD student, T.W., who was allegedly assaulted and raped by a classmate, brought a Title IX action against the school district, claiming sex-based discrimination. The lawsuit alleged that T.W., a special needs student, was repeatedly assaulted by a classmate, V.A.  According to the suit, T.W. and her case manager notified the school. The school’s solution was to move T.W. and V.A. to different parts of the room. V.A. was assigned to a desk in front of the class bathroom. The suit claimed that the abuse did not stop. V.A. allegedly raped T.W. in the class bathroom, a foot away from his desk. Doe, T.W.’s mother, withdrew her daughter after finding out about the rape.

The lawsuit alleged that the school violated T.W.’s rights under Title IX, which protects students against sex discrimination. The district court dismissed Doe’s Title IX claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act’s (IDEA).

Though Doe had not sued under the IDEA, the district court concluded that Doe’s claim could have been brought as an IDEA claim and, therefore, the claims should have been exhausted through the IDEA’s administrative remedies, including consideration by a special education hearing officer.

The mother appealed the dismissal to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Fifth Circuit reversed the trial court’s dismissal. Generally, when a complaint involves allegations that a school district denied a student a free appropriate education (FAPE), IDEA’s administrative remedies should be exhausted.

Here, however, the parent’s claim was about sex-based discrimination under Title IX, irrespective of the IDEA’s FAPE obligation. The court stated: “Were all traces of T.W.’s disabilities removed, Doe’s claim would look nearly identical to what exists now: allegations that the school was deliberately indifferent to T.W.’s sexual abuse.” Thus, the appeals court concluded that the gravamen of the complaint was not about the denial of a FAPE and that the IDEA’s exhaustion requirement did not apply.

The case was remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings.  This case was at the very early stages in which the Court had to accept all allegations stated in the suit as true.  The case will now proceed to see if there is evidence to support the allegations. The case is

Doe v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 18-10720, 2019 WL 5485114 (5th Cir. Oct. 25, 2019).

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