Francesca

Handley High School Latin teacher Danielle Bostick and her daughter Francesca are seen July 27, 2018.

WINCHESTER — The city School Board has denied a Winchester woman’s appeal claiming the school system violated federal regulations by failing to adequately safeguard her daughter from a classmate who pleaded no contest to sexually assaulting her.

In a letter issued Friday to Danielle Bostick, the 15-year-old girl’s mother, board Chairwoman Allyson Pate wrote “there is insufficient information to suggest, by the preponderance of the evidence, that our School Board Policy GBA/JFHA was violated.”

The policies cited by Pate are the city school system’s rules regarding student harassment and the filing of complaints.

Winchester Public Schools Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum has twice denied Bostick’s allegations that the system violated Title IX regulations that require any public school that receives federal money to ensure all students are educated in a safe, secure environment. By not taking adequate measures to isolate her daughter from her attacker, Bostick said the school system violated those regulations.

When the first complaint was rejected by Van Heukelum and the School Board in December, Bostick responded by filing a second complaint April 23. Van Heukelum issued his ruling July 17 and the board upheld his decision during an executive session Wednesday.

Bostick’s daughter, identified publicly only as Francesca, was sexually assaulted last July in a local park by a Handley student she did not know who is her same age. Francesca has said the boy ignored her protests and kissed and groped her for an hour before allowing her to leave.

The Winchester Police Department charged the boy, whose name has not been released due to his age, with misdemeanor sexual battery and felony abduction.

In December, he pleaded nolo contendere — Latin for no contest — in Winchester Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. A nolo contendere plea is not an admission of guilt but results in a conviction.

Adjudication was deferred for two years. If the boy complies with court-ordered conditions, including a mandate that he has no further contact with Francesca, the felony abduction charge will be dismissed and the misdemeanor sexual battery charge will be reduced to simple assault and battery.

Since Francesca and the boy were both rising ninth-graders at Handley, Bostick informed Winchester Public Schools about the incident Aug. 8, 2017, the same day Francesca confided to her about what happened in the park.

The school system took steps to keep the boy away from Francesca, but she still saw him at Handley on numerous occasions. Each sighting was traumatizing, Francesca has said, and made school a place she didn’t want to be.

In her Title IX complaints, Bostick demanded the school system do more to ensure Francesca never encountered her attacker at school or during school activities.

A document titled “A Roadmap to Defending School Districts in Title IX Disputes,” prepared by the National School Boards Association’s Council of School Attorneys, lays out strategies for U.S. school systems named in complaints such as those filed by Bostick against Winchester Public Schools.

The document states there are two ways school districts can challenge complaints. “First, by arguing that the complained of harassment was not sufficiently severe or pervasive, and second, that the plaintiff was not deprived of access to educational opportunities or benefits.”

The Winchester school system’s investigative findings from Bostick’s Title IX complaints cast doubt on Francesca’s assault allegations, claimed her behavior in school did not support her assertion that seeing her attacker was traumatic, denied that the situation had created a hostile environment for Francesca’s education and did not recognize the boy’s no contest pleas as proof of guilt.

Pate said the School Board’s consideration of Bostick’s appeal last week included review of “approximately 150 pages of information” including the investigative report prepared by Winchester Public Schools Director of Student Services V. Douglas Joyner, whose promotion to director of human resources was announced by Van Heukelum one day after the release of the report.

In his new role, which took effect Aug. 3, Joyner serves as the school division’s chief Title IX officer.

Joyner and Van Heukelum were not present for last week’s School Board deliberations, Pate wrote, and the final verdict was “based solely on the merits” of the information submitted by Bostick, Francesca and the school system.

School officials have consistently declined comment regarding the issue, and Bostick said she and Francesca will respond to the board’s decision later this week.

The only recourse available to Bostick at this point is taking the case to Winchester Circuit Court. She has not said whether she intends to do so.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com