Jury sides with school system in suit accusing it of ignoring middle-schooler's sex assault claims

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A jury on Wednesday rejected a woman's lawsuit seeking tens of millions of dollars from Virginia's largest school system over allegations that she was raped multiple times as a middle schooler.

The woman, who was identified in court papers only by her initials, sued Fairfax County Public Schools under Title IX, a law that guarantees girls and women equal educational access. The lawsuit alleged school officials at Rachel Carson Middle School in Reston ignored her complaints that she endured sexual harassment and sexual assaults inside and outside of the school back in 2011 and 2012, when she was a seventh-grader.

Lawyers for the school system, though, argued that her claims were fabricated.

“She has tried to deceive you about what really happened,” Sona Rewari, a lawyer for the school board, told jurors during closing arguments Tuesday.

The school system’s lawyers introduced evidence at the monthlong trial of social media posts and text messages back from 2011 that seem to suggest B.R. and her alleged rapist — a 13-year-old eighth grader — were actually a boyfriend and girlfriend who willingly engaged in sex acts. In some of the messages, the plaintiff used “eye-wateringly graphic” language to express her interest in sexual encounters, Rewari told the jury during closings.

In dozens of the the texts, B.R. flatly tells the boy “I love you” at a time when she now says she was being repeatedly raped by the boy after school at a bus stop.

On the witness stand, the plaintiff denied sending most of the messages. She also said that her attacker forced her to send some messages so that no one would believe her if she ever claimed to have been raped.

B.R., according to the school system, only claimed the sex was against her will after the boy broke up with her and after her mother discovered a salacious voicemail message on the girl’s phone and alerted school officials.

After the verdict was read, teachers and counselors at the school who had also been named as defendants in the case exchanged hugs amid tears.

The now-24-year-old plaintiff, meanwhile, left court visibly angry, followed by a small group of family and supporters.

The plaintiff's allegations of exactly what happened to her evolved in the years since she first filed her lawsuit in 2019. At one point she amended the complaint to include allegations that she had been gang-raped multiple times in a utility closet at the school, possibly as some part of a sexual trafficking ring.

At trial, she never presented those allegations to the jury when her lawyer acknowledged that there was no good evidence that she had ever alerted school officials to the alleged rapes.

Lawyers for the school system said there was no evidence at all to support the notion that rapes had ever occurred.

After the verdict, the school system issued a statement saying, "The jury’s verdict today affirms that the FCPS Board and nine current and former educators acted in a caring, respectful, and professional manner to support the plaintiff when she was a student 12 years ago. We are grateful to the jury for their careful evaluation of the evidence and their service on this important case.”

Andrew Brenner, one of the plaintiff's lawyers, declined comment after the verdict on whether an appeal was planned. In a written statement, another of her lawyers, Alison Anderson, said, "While we are disappointed in the resulting verdict, B.R. showed tremendous courage and fortitude in fighting for justice for more than a decade.

The rules governing Title IX's implementation and the rights of students to bring Title IX lawsuits have been a long subject of national debate. Last week the Biden administration made revisions undoing some changes that been implemented by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump. The new rules put forward by Biden have drawn praise from victims’ advocates, while Republicans said it erodes the rights of accused students.

While the trial dragged on for more than a month, the eight-person civil jury at U.S. District Court in Alexandria needed only a few hours of deliberation Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning before reaching a unanimous verdict rejecting all of her claims against all defendants.