Issaquah school sued for protecting football players after sexual assault

A former Skyline High School student says the school put athletic success ahead of her safety.

“Jane,” shown here in downtown Seattle on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018, was sexually assaulted by two football players as a student at Skyline High School in 2014. She has filed a lawsuit against the Issaquah School District for how her case was handled. (Photo by Dorothy Edwards/Crosscut)

"In Issaquah, football is God.”

So begins a lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court on Thursday on behalf of two sisters. 

The incidents at the heart of the suit took place when the two plaintiffs, referred to here by the pseudonyms Jane and Jennifer because they asked that Crosscut not use their real names, were attending Skyline High School.  

The lawsuit alleges students and faculty at Skyline, which is located in Sammamish and is part of the Issaquah School District, harassed and bullied them after the older sister, Jane, now 20 years old, accused two star football players of sexual assault four years ago. It alleges the Issaquah School District maintained “an environment where victimized children are second to almighty football.”  

Jane says she’s filing the lawsuit now because Skyline community members haven’t stopped targeting her family, she claimed, adding that the district has continued to ignore other incidents of sexual assault involving students. Their lawyer, Yvonne Kinoshita Ward, says she knows of at least four other alleged incidents of sexual assault in the district.

“A lawsuit shines light at what people are doing in the dark, the school district is doing in the dark,” Ward said. “We want to show other victims that, guess what, that school can be held accountable.”

In a statement, L Michelle, executive director of communications for the district, said it “generally denies any allegations of legal wrongdoing.”

“We do want our families, and the public, to know that the safety of our students remains of paramount importance,” she said. “The Issaquah School District has established processes in place for staff to receive, investigate, and respond to reports of all forms of misconduct and defers investigations to local law enforcement when the situation is outside of our jurisdiction.”

In a phone interview, Michelle went on to say that “the entire community feels rocked when these kinds of allegations are made.”

But “I have absolutely no doubt about the integrity of the Issaquah School District staff and the Skyline staff.”

Sitting at a law office in downtown Seattle, Jane talked about the rape she experienced as a high school student and how it still haunts her.

“While it was happening I made sure that I said ‘I do not consent’ because that can’t be ‘oh, I didn’t think she was serious.’ There’s no way to misconstrue 'I do not consent,'” she said when asked to describe what had happened on that October morning four years ago.

On that day, Jane had gone to the house of her then-boyfriend. Once there, she said, her boyfriend helped his friend hold her down and rape her.

“I’m still feeling the effects of it and have become socially withdrawn,” she continued. “I have panic attacks in public spaces.”

“I didn’t realize how bad it was until I graduated and I still had those same defensive practices because they’ve just become so ingrained for my survival.”    

The sexual assault charge is not in question as both boys have already pled guilty. The lawsuit is focused on what Jane alleges happened after she reported the assault and attained a protective order. She claims the Issaquah School District refused to conduct an investigation because it didn’t want to lose its two star football players.

The lawsuit argues that the school only cared about the competitiveness of its football team, which had won “six State Championships over the prior nine seasons, and was on the verge of advancing to the playoffs yet again.”

Within days of the rape, Jane and her family reported the incident to the police and sought the protection order. The protection order was filed and the two star players were not allowed back at school. According to the suit, their absence prompted Skyline students and staff to taunt the girls.

“The district stood by while the football team and the student body engaged in a campaign of harassment, bullying, intimidation, and retaliation, attempting to force the victim to leave the school,” the lawsuit reads.

Jane told Crosscut that despite the alleged abuse it was important for her to remain at the school even if on many days it meant feeling isolated and eating lunch alone.

“I’m the type of person who if somebody says you can’t do this, I’m going to say ‘watch me.’ I was not going to let them win,” she said. “I did not want the message to be that I got ran out of town.”

Jane explained the first signs of bullying surfaced online. She says she was called a slut on Twitter and screen grabs provided to Crosscut show students ridiculing her and accusing her of lying. When one student tweeted that she should be the one to leave the school, a user who the lawsuit claims was then a Skyline football coach replied: “Preach on, brother:” Michelle of the Issaquah School District said the football coach at the time has since been fired.  

The girls say their home was then bombarded with eggs, feces and paintballs.

“When that failed to make the victims back down, the bullies firebombed their home,” the lawsuit says. “The family had to flee and live in an undisclosed location.”

In March 2015, as part of a plea agreement, Jane’s alleged rapist pled guilty to Assault with Sexual Motivation. That same year, the two boys transferred to Gig Harbor High School.

The lawsuit states and an email provided to Crosscut seems to indicate that even then, Skyline Principal Donna Hood directed her staff to hide the sexual assault protection order from the new school and authorized letters of recommendation for the assailants.

The lawsuit also claims that in 2015 one of the assailants’ friends planted drugs on Jane, reporting her to the school for drug possession. According to the lawsuit, video footage established it was a setup and law enforcement dismissed the claim.

Meanwhile, the family continued to be harassed, even in grocery stores and community events, according to the lawsuit.

When the two assailants were barred from attending a school dance, students allegedly attacked the girls’ home with explosives, breaking two windows and blowing off siding and the wood slats of their fence.

Even at Jane’s graduation, in 2016, the school celebrated the departed football players, prominently featuring her alleged rapist during the presentation.

“It was her graduation, not his. The District’s priorities were made crystal clear,” the lawsuit claims.

After Jane graduated, the assailants and students turned on Jennifer, who was a couple years younger than her sister.

The lawsuit claims that on Nov. 19, 2016, school officials forced Jennifer to continue cheering at a football game even after her sister’s rapist showed up and started glaring at her. 

Jennifer was forced “to stand on her cheer box, tears streaming down her face,” the lawsuit says.

Meanwhile, in front of everyone, the Skyline staff proceeded to hug the assailant, even bringing him cookies.

Emails provided to Crosscut show Jennifer's family and Skyline's head cheerleading coach discussing the incident.

Jennifer "does not feel comfortable being on the Skyline campus. She doesn't feel the administration will protect her," one email reads.    

The police encouraged the family to move Jennifer to another school, the lawsuit says. Seeing no other recourse, the family eventually did just that.

“The message they're sending to their kids is men are more important than women. Football is more important than kids. This is freaking America. As a girl, I have a right to go to school and get educated in a safe place,” Jane said, referring to the Issaquah School District and the wider community.

“If that can’t even happen in America in a well-funded school how is that supposed to happen anywhere else?”

The lawsuit is seeking damages for emotional distress, including attorney fees.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Lilly Fowler

Lilly Fowler

Lilly Fowler is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where she focused on race, immigration and other issues.