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Court to Re-Examine School Liability in Student Sex Assault

A full federal appeals court said it will rehear a case in which a court panel ruled that a Mississippi school district had a legal duty to protect a student from sexual assaults by a man who checked her out of school by claiming to be her father.

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, said in a brief order on Sept. 28 that it would rehear the case of Doe v. Covington County School District.

In August, a 5th Circuit panel ruled 2-1 that the school district was potentially liable in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family of a 9-year-old girl who was allegedly checked out of her elementary school six times during the 2007-08 school year by a man who took her off campus and sexually assaulted her.

The school district had a compulsory check-out policy, and the man was not on the list of adults authorized to check out the 4th grade girl, identified in court papers as Jane Doe. (The man was reportedly convicted of sexual battery in the case.)

The panel majority had ruled on Aug. 5 that, in light of the girl's age and the district's alleged failure to comply with its own checkout policy, the district had a "special relationship" with the 4th grader resulting in a constitutional duty to protect her from harm.

The dissenting judge on the panel had said the majority was elevating a school employee's "careless mistake" to the level of a constitutional violation. (I blogged on the panel decision here.)

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