WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced that it has entered into a settlement agreement with the Metropolitan Government of Nashville, Tenn., and Davidson County, Tenn., to enhance the security of students with disabilities on public school buses. The settlement is the result of a lawsuit stemming from episodes of peer-on-peer sexual harassment on buses designated for students with disabilities.
The United States intervened in this lawsuit, Lopez & U.S. v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, et al., to address systemic deficiencies that resulted in episodes of sexual assault and harassment of students with disabilities on special education buses operated by the school district. These acts of harassment violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination and harassment based on sex.
The agreement, in the form of a consent decree and subject to approval by Judge Robert Echols, obligates the Nashville Public School District to take substantial steps to enhance the security of students with disabilities on its public school transportation system. These steps include staffing bus monitors to assist drivers on all special education buses; implementing comprehensive screening procedures to ensure that students with disabilities are not assigned to buses where they would be at risk of harassment; expediting the investigation of suspected acts of sexual harassment involving students with disabilities; and ensuring open lines of communication between transportation officials and school-based personnel.
As part of this settlement, $1.475 million will be paid to a nine-year old autistic child who was assaulted on an unmonitored special education school bus and compelled to perform oral sex on a nineteen-year old student with known proclivities for sexually predatory behavior. The victim developed severe post-traumatic stress disorder in the aftermath of the assault and was subsequently institutionalized.
"While all victims of sexual assault suffer emotionally and psychologically, sexual assault can have a particularly devastating impact on children with disabilities," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "We will act decisively to enforce federal anti-discrimination laws against school districts that are deliberately indifferent to circumstances that threaten the safety and security of students with disabilities."
"This case is a sad reminder that children with disabilities need the protection of their governments from harassment, assault and maltreatment by others. The Justice Department and this U.S. Attorney’s Office will deal strictly with those who fail to protect the vulnerable members of our society and will make every effort to prevent such disgusting incidents from occurring in the future," said Edward M. Yarbrough, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee.
The enforcement of Title IX in school districts is a top priority of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is available on its Web site at http://www.justice.gov/crt.