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ACPS says parent FOIA request on sexual assault investigations would cost $84,300

Soon after allegations of a sexual assault surfaced at Alexandria High School’s Minnie Howard Campus, a parent filed a Freedom Of Information Act request to find out more. Two weeks after filing her request, the parent was told that it could be fulfilled, but it would cost $84,300.

On March 21, Devon Runyan Wells, a parent of five ACPS students, requested all email communications over the last two years regarding Title IX complaints and investigations between Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., School Board Members and staff. Wells also asked for any emails that contained the words rape, harassment, assault, sexual abuse, weapon, police, law enforcement, gang and gang violence.

Wells is a U.S. government attorney and represents victims of sexual assault in military justice proceedings. She says she was prompted to file the FOIA after The National Review published a story on a 14-year-old student who was arrested in December for an alleged aggravated sexual battery, rape and forcible sodomy at the Minnie Howard campus of Alexandria City High School in October. Charges against the student were later dropped, but Wells says she didn’t appreciate school administrators not answering her emails after the incident came to light.

“When I found out about the assaults, I emailed Principal Balas and said that in light of this (sexual assault investigation), I just want to know what the safety strategies are for the school and what’s being done to make our schools safer?” Wells said. “No response. Then I emailed the superintendent with Mr. Balas and asked them point blank if a Title IX  investigation was conducted into the alleged assault. I got no response.”

The story on the alleged assault broke soon after Superintendent Gregory Hutchings advised School Board members not to speak directly with the media.

ACPS Chief Technology Officer Elizabeth Hoover told Wells that fulfilling her request would require three hours of email research and more than 2,800 hours to review an estimated 168,300 emails. She wrote that narrowing the scope of the request would be significantly cheaper and take less time for staff to process.

Wells ended up sending another request that shortened the search period to last September, which will end up costing her $1,500 if she chooses to accept the charges.

“That’s not chump change — that’s a vacation,” Wells said. “But no one seems to mention the Title IX underpinnings of what went on that day.”

A shortened ACPS Title IX policy is below:

  • Any student who believes he/she/they have been the victim of prohibited discrimination, harassment or bullying should report the alleged behavior or incident as soon as possible to the Title IX Coordinator, to one of the Compliance Officers designated in this regulation or to any other school personnel. (If a report is made to another staff member, that staff member notifies the Title IX Coordinator.) The alleged behavior or incident should be reported as soon as possible, and the report generally should be made within fifteen (15) school days of the occurrence. Further, any student who has knowledge of conduct which may constitute prohibited discrimination, harassment or bullying should report the conduct to one of the Compliance Officers or to any school personnel. Any employee who has knowledge of conduct which may constitute prohibited discrimination, harassment or bullying shall immediately report such conduct to one of the Compliance Officers.
  • Upon receiving a complaint of alleged prohibited discrimination, harassment or bullying from the Title IX Coordinator, the Compliance Officer immediately authorizes or undertakes an investigation. The investigation may be conducted by school personnel or a third party designated by the school division. The investigation shall be completed as soon as practicable, which should generally be no later than 14 school days after referral of the complaint to the Compliance Officer.
  • The Compliance Officer issues a written report to the Superintendent upon completion of the investigation. If the complaint involves the Superintendent, then the report is sent to the School Board.

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