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Bellingham Schools, 3 administrators face charges for failing to report sexual assault claims

BELLINGHAM, Wash. — A former Squalicum High School student has filed a lawsuit in US District Court in Seattle naming Bellingham Public Schools the defendant to a complaint that alleges some school district staff failed to report her claims of sexual assaults by another student on school property to law enforcement. School administrators are deemed “mandatory reporters” and required by law to report such information when received.

According to the complaint filed in the court on behalf of the minor, 3 administrators at Squalicum High School during January 2022 failed to report her claims of sexual abuse. The claims were made to the different administrators on separate occasions across a 3-day period. In 1 instance, the response from the administrator was to require the student to participate in what the administrator called a “restorative circle” which required the student and the alleged assailant be alone in a room and then told to “shake hands and you’ll be fine.”

Bellingham Public Schools is accused in the complaint of failing “to make a report to the proper law enforcement agency” and “to ensure that its employees as professional school personnel received adequate training with respect to their duties as mandatory reporters of sexual abuse pursuant to state law.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages to be determined at a trial.

When the student reported the assaults to Bellingham Police about 2 weeks later, the alleged assailant, a juvenile, was arrested and charged with indecent liberties by forcible compulsion, a Class A felony.

The student has since left “Squalicum High School because of the sexual abuse and lack of appropriate response from the defendant,” according to the complaint.

The Bellingham Herald (paywall warning) reported 3 administrators involved have each been cited for failing to report the assaults, a gross misdemeanor, and ordered to appear in Whatcom County District Court.

Mandatory reporters who fail to make reports are guilty of a gross misdemeanor. A gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a $5,000 fine in Washington State.

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