A woman has revived a lawsuit alleging that negligence by current and former Prince William County Public Schools officials led to several sexual assaults when she was a special education student at C.D. Hylton High School.
The woman filed the lawsuit in Prince William County Circuit Court on Sept. 1 against former Superintendent Steven Walts, Hylton Principal David Cassady and Special Education Director Michelle Roper.
She is seeking $2 million in damages.
Although the woman appears by name in court documents, InsideNoVa is withholding her name as an alleged victim of sexual assault. The name of the alleged perpetrator is also being withheld because no formal criminal charges could be found against him.
The lawsuit is similar to one the woman filed in January 2019 against the Virginia Board of Education, the Prince William School Board, Cassady, Roper and Walts.
The legal action alleges that gross negligence by Cassady, Roper and Walts led to “repeated” sexual assaults from November 2016 to January 2017 while the woman was a student at Hylton. In filings in the previous lawsuit, the defendants denied any wrongdoing and argued the woman’s claims should be dismissed because she did not adequately show negligence.
Federal claims from the initial lawsuit were dismissed in May 2019, and she withdrew the action in March 2021.
The lawsuit says the woman, who has intellectual disabilities, was a student in Hylton’s special education program. The lawsuit does not indicate how old she was at the time, nor the age of the alleged perpetrator.
The woman alleged that around November 2016, a student with “a known troubled record involving harmful, sexual, and abusive behavior towards other children and students” was transferred into the special needs program from another school. The lawsuit does not give specific evidence of previous incidents.
The lawsuit says that several teachers were opposed to the student’s transfer into the special needs program for safety concerns. Court filings name one teacher who directly expressed concerns to the head of the special education department. The lawsuit said those concerns were then expressed to Cassady, who spoke with Roper.
The lawsuit alleges that the student “did not have any intellectual disabilities but rather just poor grades … and had a history of physical and abusive behavior.”
Roper and Cassady are alleged to have allowed the student to transfer “based upon criteria promulgated by the Prince William County School Board and Defendant Steven Walts.” The woman says Roper and Cassady failed to further investigate if the student “would be in a position to inflict harm onto other students.”
The student was placed in the woman’s classes and “repeatedly sexually assaulted” her over the next several weeks, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit says “many” of the assaults occurred in a class with only four students and “in open view of other people.”
“Such acts happened on numerous occasions during the stated period, yet the assaults were not recognized by the teachers … or the Principal, nor was [the alleged perpetrator] given any additional supervision,” the lawsuit says.
The assaults allegedly included “touching [her] breasts, her legs, kissing her, and trying to take her outside of the school building to perform other sexual acts on her,” according to court documents.
The woman told her mother about the assaults in January 2017, and her mother filed a report with the school and the police.
No criminal charges matching the alleged perpetrator’s name could be found in Prince William County Circuit Court or an online, statewide search of court records.
The student was later moved to another school, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit said an unnamed teacher’s aide was fired because of the abuse, but that the school took no responsibility for its role. It says the defendants “acted with a degree of culpability that shocks the conscience and in total or reckless disregard” for the woman’s safety.
Earlier this year, the woman filed a petition seeking authority to conduct depositions of Cassady, Walts and Roper before filing the lawsuit. The petition was filed under a state statute allowing depositions prior to legal actions in certain cases.
One reason she was seeking the authority is because she said Walts, who retired July 1, could be moving out of the area. The petition was set for a hearing on July 30, then rescheduled for Aug. 20, but that hearing was canceled.
The defendants haven’t filed a response to the lawsuit, although their attorneys filed a joint response to the petition. Their attorneys argued that speculation of Walts moving wasn’t sufficient to grant authority for deposition, plus he hasn’t moved from the area. They say the woman only sought the power so her lawsuit would survive an initial motion to dismiss it.
No hearing has been set in the case.