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Attorney for Dubuque family speaks on lawsuit alleging school district failed to prevent student's sexual assault

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KWWL)--  A lawsuit filed in Dubuque alleges that the school district failed to respond to a female students complaints about bullying for months, and again failed to help after one of those bullies sexually assaulted her.

According to the family's attorney Benjamin Novotny, the female student and her parents had been reporting the bullying for months to Hempstead High School, but district officials did almost nothing.

"There's no worse thing than not being believed," said Novotny. "So it takes courage to tell your parents, and it takes courage for your parents to tell the school. And for the school to say 'I don't believe you mom and dad, I don't believe you student. I don't think its as bad as you think it is.' that is horrifying."

According to Novotny, after being bullied for months the female student was terrified and began to avoid school. Her parents asked the district for a school transfer, but the district refused citing that the female student was absent too often.

"It wasn't a safe place, you know she was being harassed, she was being threatened, she was being intimidated," said Navotny. "She didn't want to go to school. Which is completely understandable."

Novotny says it was at this point the school gave the female student an escort to classes for a short time, but he says they did little to admonish the bullies. Then, according to him, in the spring of 2019 the students main bully sexually assaulted her at Hempstead High School.

After the alleged assault the female student immediately told her teacher, who then brought it to higher staff. The school turned over all evidence to police for an investigation but did not punish the alleged attacker in any way, or prevent the two from interacting. 

Weeks later, the parents again requested a school transfer for their daughter, and it was finally accepted. This was too late, according to Novotny. 

"If there's a reasonable threat, if there's a reasonable report you need to act on it," he said. "And here we had multiple reports from the family and the school failed to act."

Novotny says they are waiting until closer to the trial to decide on how much damages will be, but he says it will be in the tens of millions. However he says the money isn't the point.

"This isn't for the money," Novotny said "People don't come out and share things like this to get rich. Or to win the lottery. Its the only thing we're allowed to sue for in the state of Iowa. When you're harmed by the acts or omissions by someone else."

The Dubuque County Attorney's Office decided to not prosecute the case after the initial police investigation in 2019, however no reason was given.

The Dubuque Community School District sent out a statement on Monday saying they do not comment on ongoing litigation. However court documents show they have denied all allegations of wrongdoing. The trial is set for May, 2023.