A 25-year old posing as a 17-year old homeless student????

I don’t know how I missed the story behind the case of Jane Doe v. Dallas ISD. It’s been all over the newspapers and is featured in a lengthy story in Sports Illustrated.  The story is about the 25-year old who passed himself off as a 17-year old, rendered homeless by Hurricane Harvey.  Based on that, and his assertion that all of his records were lost, Dallas ISD let him in to school, despite the absence of the customary paperwork. After all, that’s what the McKinney-Vento Act requires. 

The student transferred from one Dallas high school to another where he became a star basketball player. The scam unraveled when a coach from Mesquite recognized him as one of his former players, one who was way too old to still be playing high school hoops. The Mesquite coach tipped off the Dallas coaches, and the district took corrective action.  The student was charged with tampering with a government record and indecency with a child.  He was convicted and given a sentence of six years’ probation.

What might have been a colorful story, illuminating the unintended consequences of the legal protection that homeless students have, became a more serious matter with that “indecency with a child” charge. That’s where Jane Doe comes in.  She alleges that Mr. Sidney Bouvier Gilstrap-Portley groomed her 14-year old daughter for a sexual relationship and harassed her, leading to the girl’s embarrassment, humiliation, and transfer to another school.  She blames the school district for this, alleging that they should have taken note of all the “red flags” about this guy with the manly build and “excessive tattoos.” 

The court dismissed the principal from the suit, but refused to dismiss the suit against the district.  This was a preliminary ruling based exclusively on the facts as alleged in the suit. The court held that the allegations plausibly alleged the five critical facts that the plaintiff would have to prove:  1) the district knew of the sexual harassment; 2) the harasser was under the school’s control; 3) the harassment was based on sex; 4) the harassment was so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive that it effectively barred the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit; and 5) the district was deliberately indifferent to the harassment.

The most difficult thing for plaintiffs to prove in a Title IX case of sexual harassment is the fifth factor—deliberate indifference.  Here’s why the court held that the alleged facts, if proven to be true, could support a finding of “deliberate indifference:”

Plaintiff asserts that DISD ignored the numerous “red flags” regarding Gilstrap-Portley.  In addition, the Complaint alleges that DISD failed to verify the accuracy and completeness of Gilstrap-Portley’s records prior to enrolling him and failed to conduct a mandatory home visit to Gilstrap-Portley’s residence.

But federal law expressly requires schools to enroll students who are homeless immediately “even if the child or youth is unable to produce records normally required for enrollment, such as previous academic records, medical records, proof of residency, or other documentation.”  See 42 U.S.C. 11432(g)(3)(C).  As this case goes forward, the plaintiff will likely have to focus not on that initial enrollment, but rather, what happened after that.

Take a look at your school’s policy about serving students who are homeless.  It’s at FDC in the TASB Policy Manual.  The Legal policy tracks McKinney-Vento and the Local may add a few wrinkles.  Among other things, these policies require the appointment of a homeless liaison officer. Do you know who that is? 


Tomorrow: Fighting over books…