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Meet the student who initiated an investigation into Athens City School District’s Title IX policies

Athens Middle School graduate Emmalyn Brown, a sexual assault survivor and an advocate, used her experiences to start an investigation into how an official handled her complaint.

That began with a petition to remove school board member Paul Grippa due to his alleged mishandling of reported sexual violence against Brown by another student in 2010.

Prior to the creation of the petition, Brown filed an Office for Civil Rights complaint about her assault in the summer of 2016, the summer after her freshman year of college. Before she filed an Office for Civil Rights complaint, Brown said she met with district official to go over her story and see what the current Title IX policy in the district looks like. 

“I just wasn't super thrilled with it,” Brown said about the current Title IX policy. “It was definitely better than how it used to be and that was very good to me, and I think we all need to do our part to make this policy … much more accessible to all students.”

Brown’s meeting with the officials also helped her make the decision to submit her Office for Civil Rights complaint. 

Brown told a dean and a counselor about her assault within a month of the incident and was called into a meeting with Grippa within the same week. Brown said during that meeting, Grippa questioned her story. 

Brown provided information on the harassment as well as witnesses. Brown said Grippa told her he was going to follow up, but that was the last time anyone in the school talked to her about her assault, she said.

The Post requested an interview with Athens City School District Superintendent Tom Gibbs multiple times since September about Brown’s case. He declined to comment on Brown’s case in particular. 

Gibbs provided documents by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and two highlighted books about changes in Title IX policy dating back to 2001, as well as books on Title IX legislation, in place of a comment. 

“I am not permitted to comment on this matter even if it is to correct what I believe to be inaccuracies,” Gibbs said in an email.

He did not specify what the inaccuracies were.

Brown attended Athens Middle School from 2009 to 2011 while Grippa was principal. Brown said she was sexually assaulted when she was in eighth grade by a classmate who had sexually harassed her for a year prior to the assault. At the request of Brown, The Post will not publish the name of Brown’s assailant or the faculty members involved in the case besides Grippa. 

The harassment Brown faced while a student in the district contributed to a later diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, she said in the petition.

Brown also said in her petition that Gibbs had told her that Grippa had destroyed her case notes.  

The Post obtained copies of the Athens City School District anti-harassment policies that were in place in 2010 through a records request. Gibbs said in September that the policy states records from Title IX reports should be retained at least two years after graduation. 

The Athens City School District launched an investigation in August into whether or not based on the policies in effect the year the assault Grippa failed to report to police Brown’s reports of sexual assault. Gibbs said in a statement that the district’s investigation was completed by an independent, outside investigator.

The investigation was announced soon after Brown created the petition. Brown said the petition on started growing support for her cause. 

“It started to climb from a couple signatures a day to a couple hundred, and it eventually took off,” Brown said.

As of publication, the petition has received almost 79,000 signatures.

According to the 2010 policy, it is the responsibility of district employees to recognize acts of harassment and to report those acts. If the employee does not, they can face disciplinary action. 

Brown, now a senior at the University of Iowa, has been a rape crisis advocate since she was a sophomore in college. She said the petition for removing Grippa was a much more personal form of advocacy. 

Brown said she advocates for Title IX policy to be more accessible to all students within Athens and students, faculty and staff at University of Iowa. 

“When we think of Title IX, we have tendency to think either campus sexual violence ... or even tend to think of athletics, and a lot of times people don't acknowledge K-12 even though it occurs pretty frequently,” Brown said. 

Brown has lobbied twice federally regarding Title IX. She has also interned with the U.S. Senate, for six months starting in July, and with the National Organization for Women in the summer of 2018. While she was working with the National Organization for Women, she began drafting the petition to the Athens City School School District. Brown has also lobbied at the Iowa state level for further Title IX protections. 

“Over the years, I have become really proud of (my advocacy) and really great, strong advocates and survivors who have helped me through stressful times,” Brown said.

Brown also expressed concern about the process of submitting Office for Civil Rights complaints. 

“My biggest concern I have is that there is not a lot of resources for sexual assault survivors in general. That is something I'm interested in working on in the future,” Brown said. 

Brown has specific concerns about the time limit for filing a complaint because she feels that it is not a reasonable amount of time.  According to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, a complaint must be filed within 180 days of the assault. Any person who files a complaint past this timeframe must provide a reason for the delay and request a waiver of this requirement.

While Brown was working in Washington, D.C., she helped organize a national march and rally called the National March Against Rape Culture.

“I've tried as many different advocacy approaches and activism approaches as I can at this point,” Brown said. “I'm pretty settled on law as a future (occupation), but I think it's been really a good experience to try to see a bunch of different perspectives on the issue.”

The Post found, through a records request, that between 2015 and 2018 the Athens City School District received eight reports of sexual harassment and one report of sexual assault.  

The Post submitted records requests for redacted versions of those Title IX reports. The district denied all the requests, claiming the reports are protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA.

In the Revised Sexual Harassment Guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights in January 2001, the Office for Civil Rights highlighted the importance of well-publicized and effective grievance procedures.

Kerri Griffin, Ohio University’s ECRC interim director and Title IX coordinator, said at OU, students are made aware of Title IX processes through the Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility, the Campus Involvement Center, Survivor Advocacy Program and the Women’s Center. 

Brown said she was never personally notified about the investigation into her assault starting or ending. In fact, all communication about the investigation has been through reporters. Brown said her case was unique, but she does not consider the lack of communication unusual.

Gibbs said Dec. 20 that the independent investigator believed the Athens City School District Board of Education would not have to take any action against any school employee or public official related to the investigation. Gibbs said neither he nor the board could comment any further on the investigation because of attorney to client privilege and privacy laws.

“Safety and protection of students is of utmost importance to the district,” Gibbs said in a statement. 

Brown said in a statement on Dec. 21 this was a good-faith investigation. She was disappointed but not surprised in the result, she said. 

“Our society is one that allows for injustice and requires us to speak out and help each other in order to stand in its path,” Brown said. “Justice is elusive, but progress is more easily attained — if we are willing to work.”

Brown said her personal experiences have helped her realize she wants to become a civil rights attorney. Despite health concerns, Brown is planning to graduate in December and to take the LSAT in the next few months. 


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