State Officials share insight into MMSD’s limitations when addressing rape allegations

MADISON, Wis. — State Officials from the Office of Students Safety said MMSD has legal limitations when addressing sexual assault allegations that involve students–particularly during an active criminal investigation.

On Wednesday Madison East students walked out of school in support of a young woman they alleged was raped by an East student at a house party, demanding the school take action to have him removed.

The Madison Metropolitan School District Behavior Education Plan makes it clear students who “engage in non-consensual intercourse” are automatically recommended for expulsion but the Director of the State Department of Justice’s Office of School Safety Kristen Devitt said coming to that conclusion can be complicated.

RELATED Madison East students stage walkout in support of young woman allegedly raped by student

“If there’s a law enforcement investigation happening we don’t want the school to sort of get in the mix and start trying to interview people because that could really affect evidence and testimony,“ said Devitt. “If we’re getting confusing statements from a variety of different people and everybody’s asking different questions, that could end up being a barrier to prosecution.”

Wednesday the Madison Police Department was able to confirm that this is an active and ongoing investigation but would not reveal any additional details for the time being.

Madison East students however want to know what their school is doing to address those allegations but Devitt said some of that information is protected by FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

“It’s important for students to understand that the school district isn’t intentionally trying to prevent them from knowing what could potentially happen in this circumstance,” she said. “It’s just that they are prevented literally by federal law from actually sharing that information.”

The school is however permitted to speak to students about general policy.

MMSD’s policy on expulsion suggests an investigation is typically led by a school principal and can include cases that happen outside of the school if the accused “engaged in conduct which endangered the property, health, or safety of others at school.”

So while police handle the criminal investigation the school can privately investigate whether the accused student is a threat to his peers.

School officials can follow Wisconsin school threat assessment protocol to examine this student’s behavior and determine if they can do anything to mitigate the likelihood violence will occur.

Devitt also said the state does recommend beyond taking the students’ concerns seriously school officials should connect them with the right support resources.

“It’s always important that when you have someone come and report this information to you to understand how sensitive this information is, that it’s a life changing experience,” she said.

Following the protest Tuesday District officials shared in a statement that they would be partnering with the Rape Crisis Center to offer best practices for both students and staff.

Madison East students are planning another walkout Friday at 10 a.m. to share their demands for consent education, staff training on sexual assault, and perpetrator accountability with school officials.