A federal lawsuit has been filed alleging a sexual assault at Trailside Middle School and challenging series of actions by school administrators and investigators who concluded the allegation was unfounded.
The lawsuit was filed May 24 in the Eastern District of Virginia by the student and her mother, identified as Jane Doe and A.A. The plaintiffs are seeking more than $10 million in damages.
According to the complaint, during the 2017-2018 school year a math teacher allegedly used his position to get close to a 13-year-old student identified as Jane Doe. He “gave Doe gifts, gave her an A on a quiz she didn’t take, nominated her for an award, and told her personal stories about himself to gain her trust and manipulate her sympathies,” the lawsuit states. “His actions escalated to include sexual contact and culminated in forcible rape in the spring of 2018 within a locked Loudoun County classroom.”
The lawsuit claims that that after the student’s mother informed Trailside Principal Bridgett Beichler of the incident, school officials failed to take necessary steps to protect the student, leading the situation to continue and further escalate. Additionally, the suit claims that investigators with Loudoun’s Child Protective Services department and the Sheriff’s Office also failed to protect the student. Other school officials are named as defendants, including assistant principal Patricia O’Connell, LCPS director of school administration Virginia Patterson and Loudoun County Child Protective Services employee Linda Bell.
After the incident in spring 2018, “investigating officials failed to bring in an expert on sexual assault procedures which resulted in two ineffective interviews with a raped 13-year-old,” the lawsuit states. In a third interview, the student was able to draw a picture for the caseworker, but the investigation was closed prematurely.
The teacher, Felix Colaciello, was suspended, but reinstated after investigators concluded there was no evidence of an assault.
While no charges were ever filed in the case, the mother and daughter continued to voice concerns about Colaciello.
Colaciello and school officials petitioned for a protective order against the mother, and after the petition was dismissed, Trailside placed the student on in-school restriction in December 2018 because of attendance concerns. But that action was later reversed after the student “proved that she did not have any unexcused absences from class during the times she was accused of missing,” the lawsuit states.
In the civil suit, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office is also accused of ignoring evidence in the case. The lawsuit claims that the student was able to identify marks in Colaciello’s genitalia region and that a CPS caseworker sent the interview with that information to the Sheriff’s Office. However, “the department refused to conduct further investigation because they had already closed the case,” the suit states. The student’s mother said she informed other officials about the new information, but the case stayed closed.
In March, Beichler suspended the student for 10 days after the she sent an email to Trailside staff, warning them about Colaciello.
“Principal Beichler accused [the student] of harassing Colaciello, threatening Colaciello, and violating LCPS’s acceptable use policy.” The student appealed the suspension, and got it reduced to three days, but was unable to get it removed from her official record. “Additionally, LCPS officials informed Doe that she would be suspended again if she continued to speak out about such issues.”
During Tuesday’s School Board meeting, frequent school administration critic Brian Davidson lambasted Superintendent Eric Williams and school board members for not taking action in the case. “Despite desperate pleas for assistance from Superintendent Williams and each one of you, not a single one of you responded,” he said.
LCPS spokesman Wayde Byard sent a statement to media representatives immediately following Davidson’s comments to the school board. According to Byard, the Sheriff’s Office conducted an investigation in coordination with the Department of Family Services but found no evidence of criminal conduct by Colaciello.
The Sheriff’s Office stated that “after a complete investigation and after gathering all facts, evidence and statements, the Loudoun Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office declined charges in the case.” LCPS also investigated and determined the allegations not to be founded, Byard added.
“Loudoun County Public Schools expectations and practices, which are governed by law and School Board policy, are very clear when there is suspicion of employee misconduct,” Byard continued in the statement. “Employees must report suspected child abuse or neglect to appropriate authorities. Additionally, supervisors who suspect an employee of child abuse or neglect must contact Human Resources so that appropriate personnel action occurs. They must also contact law enforcement when a violation of law relates to work or to suspected child abuse or neglect.”
The plaintiffs in the case are seeking $10 million in damages from Colaciello and $4,050,000 from the School Board, Beichler, Patterson and O’Connell. The lawsuit also seeks attorney fees and to clear the suspension from the student’s official record, as well as full school records pertaining to the incidents.