A Delaware Valley High School student says a male student repeatedly sexually harassed her and about 20 mostly freshmen students over four or five days recently.
Hazel Gomez, 14, and her mother, Janeace Valle, told the Courier that they have complained to school administrators, but they have not responded to their complaints. They said the boy was suspended for three days, while students who protested what they considered to be the boy’s light suspension were themselves suspended for ten days.
Julie Ewald of Superintendent John Bell’s office told the Courier the school could not in any way comment on its disciplinary actions regarding students. “As Dr. Bell has stated before, we do not discuss student issues in public,” she wrote in an email.
Hazel said that during class, the boy touched her hair and reached under the table to touch her thigh. On another occasion the boy would not let go of her arm and tried to hold it under the table. Hazel said she was so stunned by his behavior, she didn’t tell the teacher. No one saw the boy assault her, she said.
After the incident, Hazel said, an escort accompanied the boy to and from classes, arriving five minutes late and leaving five minutes early. His escort did not stay with him in the classroom.
Hazel said she was so upset by the incidents that she sought help from a counselor.
She said Dr. Jayson Pope, the special education assistant principal, asked her teachers to reassign seats to keep her and the boy as far away from each other as possible.
Students walk out
Hazel said students walked out of school at around 11 a.m. on Sept. 29 “to protest the boy’s behavior and his lax three-day suspension.” All of the district’s school security officers were called to the high school to deal with the walkout, she said.
“One girl who protested with the group was pinned to a wall in the high school by one of the school’s police/security guards,” said Hazel.
She said the officer loomed over the five-foot-tall girl, pinning her arms and knees to the wall because she was swearing and wanted to continue protesting and not return to class.
Hazel said the officer told the girl, who is Hazel’s friend, that she could be ticketed and fined for swearing at a police officer, and that her punishment would include a ten-day suspension from school.
Hazel said the students weren’t being allowed to express themselves, while the adults were quick to threaten. She said she felt bullied by the adults, who refused to listen to what any of them had to say about the harassment they suffered. Administrators, teachers, school security officers, and members of the Eastern Pike Regional Police Department all yelled at them to return to class, she said.
Hazel said her friend was taken into the girls’ bathroom by a female staff member and police officer. When she emerged, Hazel said, she was so rattled she had trouble breathing.
Many of the students involved in the walkout were escorted to the administrative office, said Hazel. Administrators told the students to delete from their phones all photos and recordings of the protest. Hazel said she believes the administrators tried to cover up the incident while making little, if any, attempt to deal with the allegations of harassment.
Hazel said the boy kept up his harassing behavior, not only of girls, but also of one boy, which nearly caused a fight in the cafeteria.
Valle said she received a copy of the police report from the Eastern Pike Regional Police. Police Chief Chad Stewart told the Courier he could not comment on any incident involving students.
Valle said she wanted to know why students who walked out to protest wearing masks in school were allowed to leave campus, told by a police officer they could protest across the street on the three-lane, and were never suspended, while the students protesting harassment were suspended for 10 days.
Valle said she has gotten into heated discussions with a school official because he seemed more interested in threatening the protestors than addressing the harassment allegations.
She said an administrator trivialized the incidents, telling Hazel, “How you going to call this sexual assault?”
Hazel said the boy was removed from school for his own safety. Other students threatened to beat him up, she said.
Title IX demands that schools respond
The federal law known as Title IX prohibits the sexual harassment of students, male and female, in all school activities, no matter where the harassment occurs.
Delaware Valley adopted the most recent version of its policy titled “Discrimination/Title IX Sexual Harassment Affecting Students” on July 15, 2021. Revisions were also done in 2019 and 2020.
Every school district in the United States must have Title IX coordinator who is trained in responding to sexual harassment and assault allegations and responsible for the school’s compliance with the federal law. Peg Schaffer is the Title IX coordinator for Delaware Valley. “Every school must notify all students and employees of the name, office address, and telephone number of its Title IX coordinator(s),” according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR).
Schools are also required to conduct a timely investigation of all alleged incidents of harassment, and to keep the affected students and their parents informed.
“Regardless of whether the victim files a formal complaint or requests action, the school must conduct a prompt, impartial, and thorough investigation to determine what happened and must take appropriate steps to resolve the situation,” according to the OCR. After the investigation is completed, “The school must notify the victim (and his or her parents depending on the age of the victim) of the outcome of its investigation and of any punishments imposed that directly relate to the victim, such as an order for the harasser to stay away from the victim.”
According to DV’s policy, anyone may make a written complaint by using the Discrimination/Sexual Harassment/Bullying/Hazing/Dating Violence/Retaliation Report Form. Verbal reports also “shall be accepted, documented and the procedures of this policy...followed.”
DV’s policy also forbids retaliation: “The district, its employees and others are prohibited from intimidating, threatening, coercing, or discriminating against anyone” for making a report. “Individuals are encouraged to contact the Title IX Coordinator immediately if retaliation is believed to have occurred.”
The policy also requires that the person accused not be disciplined before the grievance process is completed.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include Chief Stewart’s response and additional information from DV’s Title IX policy.