A former William Monroe High School student has brought a discrimination lawsuit in federal court against the Greene County School Board regarding an alleged sexual assault in 2018.
Gabriela Vazquez claims in the lawsuit that the school system violated her civil rights under Title VI and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act when she informed school administrators of an alleged sexual assault by former student Matthew Jones. The case against Jones was dismissed in Greene County Circuit Court in February 2020.
In the suit, filed Nov. 25, 2020, Vazquez claims “unlawful discrimination and retaliation on the basis of sex in violation of Title IX … and unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin in violation of Title VI.”
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. Title IX—passed in 1972—protects people from discrimination based on their gender in educational programs or activities that receive financial assistance.
Vazquez is Latina, with Mexican heritage, and was 16 years old and a junior at William Monroe High School at the time of the alleged incident in September 2018. According to the lawsuit, Jones sexually assaulted Vazquez by forcing her to have oral sex and sexual intercourse against her will in a stairwell at the high school, despite repeated verbal and physical attempts to get him to stop. The suit notes there was security camera footage of the stairwell as well as a photo of a Snapchat message from Jones allegedly admitting to rape, which was shown to the school principal after Vazquez confided in her guidance counselor.
According to the lawsuit, “Principal (Katie) Brunelle and the other school officials present engaged in offensive and harassing conduct toward (Vazquez) in which they attempted to shame (her) while she reported the sexual assault … when (she) was unable to recall specific facts about the assault in response to Principal Brunelle’s interrogation, which is common among victims of sexual assault, Principal Brunelle and other officials mocked her, shamed her, and insinuated that (Vazquez) was not being truthful.”
Vazquez suffered significant emotional trauma and distress due to the conduct by county school staff and was notified later that same day of her 10-day suspension from school for allegedly violating a sexual conduct policy, along with Jones, the lawsuit states. When Vazquez returned to school, according to the suit, “it was apparent that the school officials had failed to maintain (Vazquez’s) privacy and that the school community was aware of the suspensions … in addition, school officials required Vazquez to continue attending class and to remain on campus with the male student who (allegedly) assaulted her despite her request that she not be required to be in his presence.”
According to the suit, Vazquez was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) “arising from the (alleged) sexual assault and the secondary victimization by school officials.” After experiencing multiple panic attacks throughout the remainder of the school year, Vazquez left the school and completed her high school degree by attending classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC).
Vazquez alleges the school board violated Title IX by its acts and omissions after receiving notice that she was sexually assaulted on campus during school hours by a male student and by “failing to investigate the sexual assault after receiving notice; ignoring evidence of this sexual assault, including (Vazquez’s) statements, security video footage of the assault, and (an alleged) Snapchat message from the (alleged) assailant stating that he raped (her); and requiring (her) to be present in classes and/or on campus with her assailant despite her requests that he be separated from her.”
Vazquez also claims the school board unlawfully retaliated against her for reporting about the sexual assault by suspending her from school for 10 days.
The suit also states that when a second female student, who is white, subsequently reported sexual assault by that same male student in February 2019, the report was thoroughly investigated—including disciplining the male student and not suspending or penalizing the white female student.
Vazquez had no comment about the lawsuit when approached by Record staff.
In a response filed Dec. 21, 2020, the Greene County School Board denied that it violated Title IX or Title VI, that Vazquez was subjected to discrimination or retaliation and that it is liable to the plaintiff in any way. The response specifically states, “The school board admits that (Vazquez) seeks relief, but denies that it violated Title IX/Title VI and further denies that (she) is entitled to the relief requested or any relief.”
In the detailed responses to each claim, the school board states that Vazquez did not communicate the full details of the alleged assault to any member of the board.
Additionally, the school board claims in its response that Vazquez told board members that “no sexual intercourse took place” and that “she did not try to push the male student away.”
The school board also noted in its response that while there are security cameras that monitor portions of the stairwell, they deny that the security cameras captured the alleged assault. The response states that “school employees informed Vazquez’s parents that there was video footage of (Vazquez) meeting the male student on prior occasions in the stairwell but that there was no footage of the alleged assault and that (her) parents did not ask to see the videos.”
They do admit that Vazquez and Jones messaged each other via Snapchat after the encounter but deny that Jones admitted to rape in the messages seen by school staff.
The school board states that Vazquez “was suspended for 10 days for violating school policy after she skipped class on three occasions to meet a male student in the stairwell.” The board denied that the suspension was due to Vazquez reporting the alleged sexual assault.
While Vazquez claims in her lawsuit that the school system would not modify her schedule, the schools’ response notes that Vazquez initially declined attempts to modify her schedule and denies that school officials mistreated her in any way.
In response to Vazquez’s claim that a second female student filed an assault claim against the same male student in February 2019, the school board admits that the incident took place in a school bathroom after school hours and that the female student in question was not suspended, but that the male student was removed from school for the remainder of the school year. The school board states that it did investigate both students’ claims of assault and did not discriminate against Vazquez in any way due to her sex or race.
Greene County Com-monwealth’s Attorney Edwin Consolvo mo-tioned to nolle proseque the charges against Jones on Feb. 4, 2020, after Jones was indicted as an adult in June 2019. Consolvo would not comment at the time on whether there were plans to re-try Jones as a juvenile—juvenile courts in Virginia operate behind closed doors. Jones would have been 16 at the time of the alleged assault.
Vazquez seeks compensatory damages “in an amount that will fully compensate her for the physical injuries, mental distress, anguish, pain, humiliation, embarrassment, suffering and concern that she has suffered as a direct and proximate result of (the school board’s) statutory violations” in addition to legal and attorneys’ fees incurred in investigating and prosecuting the claim.
The school board says in its response that “all actions were taken in good faith and based on legitimate nondiscriminatory and non-retaliatory reasons and were not solely or in part, based on any illegal, discriminatory, retaliatory or wrongful motives or consideration.”