Former Austin ISD student details alleged sexual assault, pushes district for more Title IX training

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A former Austin High School student is publicly sharing her account of a sexual assault for the first time.

Julia Heilrayne says a classmate inappropriately touched her several years ago and school officials didn’t act. Her goal now is to spark change within the district to prevent it from happening to others.

“There were times when it was really hard to focus in class or when I just left class and just sat in the bathroom to avoid everything,” Heilrayne, now a freshman in college, said. “It was incredibly draining showing up to school every day, walking the hallways and seeing my principal who silenced me, showing me that they didn’t care.”

After reporting the sexual assault and receiving a sub-par response from Austin High administrators, Heilrayne said she then went to the district, sparking conversations with then-superintendent Dr. Paul Cruz. She says Cruz reassured her that all staff district-wide would receive free training from the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA) to help students like her come forward.

The attorneys representing Heilrayne say that committment was never fulfilled once Cruz left.

“That’s dropping the ball when it comes to protecting students and the safety of teachers, as well,” said Wayne Krause Yange with the Texas Legal Services Center.

The TAASA confirmed to KXAN discussions with the distract were in the works at one point but said it never was finalized. AISD officials claim nothing was ever set in stone.

“In ongoing discussions with the Texas Legal Services Center, the district did not make any firm commitments to complete specific training they requested or in the manner they requested,” a spokesperson said.

Austin ISD does not tolerate any form of sexual violence, assault or harassment. The district requires training on these topics annually, including trainings focused on Title IX, sexual assault and sexual harassment. In ongoing discussions with the Texas Legal Services Center, the district did not make any firm commitments to complete specific training they requested or in the manner they requested. We maintain our commitment to support teachers, staff, and students by making additional training available to staff and provide flexible ways of allowing staff to participate in these trainings.

Austin Independent School District

In 2017, there were a number of high-profile sexual assaults within Austin ISD. Administrators began requiring mandatory staff trainings on ethics, student and employee relationships and reporting child abuse and neglect. The Austin ISD Police Chief also stepped down at the time.

Title IX experts say policies like that for staff are crucial, but it’s equally important to ensure students know their rights.

“It can be really hard to succeed in school if you are dealing with PTSD and trauma related to sexual violence,” Sage Carson, the manager of Know Your IX, a survivor-led campaign working to end youth violence. “[School districts] should have a clear policy or a grievance policy for students to review so they know where to report, what they can report, when they can report and what can come of those reports.”

Heilrayne just wants other kids to have the full support of their school when something happens.

“They are not in this for personal gain or any other purpose. They want to see that something like this doesn’t happen again,” Krause Yang said.

No criminal charges were ever filed at the time of the alleged incident. KXAN reached out to Austin ISD police, who wouldn’t comment, citing privacy concerns.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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