Published Online: May 21, 1997

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Justices Decline To Hear Peer-Sex-Harassment Case

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Washington

For the second time in its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review a case involving peer sexual harassment in schools.

The justices, without comment, refused last week to hear an appeal by a mother who alleged that officials of the Bryan, Texas, school district failed to curtail a pattern of sexual harassment of her daughter by middle school boys in 1992 and 1993.

The high court's refusal to hear the appeal in J.W. v. Bryan Independent School District (Case No. 96-1422) was not surprising given that the case was similar to a separate peer-sexual-harassment case from the same district that the justices refused to review last fall.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which covers Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, ruled last year in the first Bryan case that districts cannot be held liable in most circumstances for sexual harassment of students by other students. The Supreme Court last fall declined to review the ruling, known as Rowinsky v. Bryan Independent School District. ("Supreme Court Declines To Accept Student Sexual-Harassment Case," Oct. 16, 1996.)

A federal district judge threw out the mother's lawsuit in the J.W. case, which alleged that boys at Sam Rayburn Middle School in Bryan regularly harassed her daughter without adequate response from school officials. A separate 5th Circuit panel upheld the dismissal, citing the Rowinsky ruling.

In their appeal to the high court, lawyers for the mother urged the court to clarify whether districts can be held liable for failing to stem peer sexual harassment.

But lawyers for the school district pointed out that while there are conflicting rulings on peer sexual harassment among federal district courts, federal courts of appeals are not divided over the issue.

An appellate court split is a common reason for the Supreme Court to take on a case.

--MARK WALSH

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