Suit charges Upper St. Clair officials made rape victim 'bait'

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A former Upper St. Clair High School student who already claimed she had been raped once was raped again on school property after school officials used her as bait in a failed attempt to catch students they believed were having sex in the building, her attorneys claim.

The allegation was made in a lengthy response filed by attorneys for the unidentified former student against the district's motion to throw out the lawsuit brought by the former student. Upper St. Clair school district is asking U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Lancaster to find in its favor, arguing that the plaintiffs cannot prove the district was deliberately indifferent to the possibility that the student would be assaulted.

According to the brief by the student's attorney, on Feb. 4, 2008, the girl went to one of her teachers, Esther von Waldow, and told her that a boy, with whom she'd had previous problems, had forced her to have sex with him after school. The Post-Gazette does not identify victims of sexual assault and has not identified the accused rapist, who pleaded guilty in juvenile court to sexual assault.

The girl told Ms. von Waldow that he forced another student to have sex, as well.

Ms. von Waldow, according to the brief, immediately went to school administrators with concerns and offered several options to make sure the girls in question got home safely. They included offering herself to walk the girls to their school bus.

But, the filing said, school Principal Michael Ghilani had a different idea.

"Instead, Ghilani wanted to keep Jane Doe on school property and not let her leave. Ghilani's plan, known as the 'sting operation,' was to use Jane Doe as 'bait' to lead the school administrators to [the boy] and perhaps other girls."

According to a court filing submitted by the school district, Dr. Ghilani didn't believe that the students were in danger or that any safety concerns were present. Instead, he thought students were having consensual sex in school after hours.

He devised a plan to have school police officers follow the students in question to determine who they were and where they were going.

"Security personnel followed the students. Whether the sexual activity was alleged to be consensual or nonconsensual would not have altered the plan," Upper St. Clair said in its brief. "The plan to was to monitor the students and stop the students before any sexual activity occurred."

The officers followed the students and believed that they had gone home for the day.

However, an officer working night duty later saw on a school surveillance camera that the boy and another girl were back on the premises.

Though the officer then did rounds to find them, he never did.

The girl's attorneys contend that two girls were raped in the stairwell that afternoon, including their client.

"Ghilani's 'sting operation,' which prevented von Waldow from placing Jane Doe on her bus and out of harm's way so that she could be used as bait, resulted in her being violently raped. Ghilani and the school district acted in utter disregard of her welfare."

David J. Barton, the attorney representing the student, called Mr. Ghilani's attempt at a sting "ill-conceived."

"As a parent, I'm offended that a high school principal would use anybody's daughter as bait."

Among the claims by the girl and her parents are that school officials failed to act when they knew the boy was a threat.

They claim that several school administrators knew by mid-January that the boy was sexually harassing several girls and had sexually assaulted more than one.

Even so, the brief said, no one contacted the police.

But in court documents filed by the school district, there are allegations that relationships between the boy in question and several of the girls who claim to be victims were consensual. The district argues that the girls liked him, and were jealous of the others.

In one court filing, the district said that it could dispute whether the student who filed the lawsuit has been raped.

But following the incident, the girl's attorneys contend in documents, the suspect sent the girl this text message:

"im soo sry i didn't mean 2 make u cry. i'm cant believe i just raped u well bout time u read dis i mite b dead."

School officials also claim that they knew nothing of any sexual assaults by the boy until the morning of Feb. 5, 2008 -- the day after the alleged "sting."

In October 2008, the boy admitted in juvenile court to sexual assault, but not rape. He was said to be facing up to four years incarceration. The judge on the case, John T. McVay Jr., issued a gag order.

The plaintiffs on Thursday also accused the school district of lying on its annual Safe Schools Report, submitted in June 2008 to the state Department of Education. In that report, the district reported that no rapes had occurred at the high school during the school year.

Leah Harris, a spokeswoman at the Department of Education, said no discipline is provided for districts that do not report information accurately.

Because the law does not define the various offenses, she said, school districts use their own definitions.

For the 2007-08 school year, Upper St. Clair High School reported one instance of "obscene and other sexual materials and performance," one occurrence of recklessly endangering, and two instances of "threatening school officials and students."

In a written statement, the school district said it believed that the lawsuit should be dismissed because the plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of proof. Officials would not comment further.

Education Writer Eleanor Chute contributed. Paula Reed Ward: 412-263-2620.


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