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Austin ISD alum's experience leads to policy change; AISD starts new sexual assault training in response

A former student said when she reported her sexual assault, the district handled it poorly. She's looking forward to new changes.

AUSTIN, Texas — On Thursday, all Austin ISD principals and senior leaders start new sexual assault training and the district is changing some of its policies. These changes come after one former student said she had a poor experience with her sexual assault report when she was a sophomore in high school. 

"I was assaulted by a classmate and I reported it. I was treated pretty horribly by every single administrator that I interacted with," said Julia Heilrayne. "I was asked to repeat my story numerous times. I was pulled out of class a lot. I don't know how many times, but a lot, and I was told things like, 'Oh, maybe if you screamed it wouldn't have happened,' and asked me why I didn't report it sooner."

Heilrayne said she tried to speak up, but felt like she was silenced and blamed by school leaders at the time. 

"What I wasn't expecting was that the aftermath of dealing with the district was going to be – if not more painful than the assault itself," said Karen Rayne, Julia's mother. "They weren't listening. They weren't responding. They weren't being kind or observant to their own internal processes."

Heilrayne and Rayne said they made it through and now believe there's a beacon of hope for them and other AISD students. AISD and the Texas Legal Services Center, which represents Julia, came up with an agreement for the new training that's an in-depth training that focuses on sexual harassment prevention, identification and reporting. 

"I think that AISD has really stepped up," said Wayne Kraus Yang, a Texas Legal Services Center attorney. "It's going to be a full day training put out by the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. They're experts in this field. I think it will be eye-opening and really helpful to teachers and staff. It doesn't just go to teachers. It's from bus drivers to administrators, from teachers to librarians to custodians, everybody. More than 12,000 employees are going to get this training."

As a part of the agreement: 

  • All employees hired in the future will receive the sexual assault training.
  • The district will improve its policies on sexual assault, harassment and discrimination.
  • All staff will receive an updated training on the First Amendment in schools. 
  • AISD will improve the way it provides information to students and parents about sexual assault, harassment and discrimination.

Heilrayne said she can move forward knowing she made a difference. 

"It really addresses a lot of the cracks that I fell through as a student to hopefully prevent other students from following, falling through the same cracks. So, I'm really happy and relieved that we're here," said Heilrayne.

AISD responded in a statement: 

Austin ISD and the Texas Legal Service Center have worked together to bring new training to Austin ISD for all Austin ISD employees take in the coming year.

The training will focus on sexual harassment prevention, identification and reporting. This is a proactive step AISD and TLSC are making so families know their schools are safe.

Additional information about the training:

The training is in partnership with the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, which has graciously offered to provide this new training free of charge to Austin ISD staff. We are providing training to all principals and senior leadership these next few days. We are working to expand the training to other staff through the summer. Following our summer training, we hope to find ways to provide training for new staff and refresher training for all staff in the future through prepared training and other methods. We are also working with TAASA to ensure our policy is current and covers best practices and will potentially share suggestions with our Board Policy committee in August.

“Sexual assault and harassment training for schools will go far to ensure students like Julia receive the support they need and that the policies in place to address sexual violence are accessible, trauma-informed and meet the needs of survivors seeking support,” said Rick Gipprich, TAASA director of programs and training. “If we want survivors to be heard and feel safe in reporting, we have to arm school district personnel with the resources to better respond to and address reports of sexual, intimate partner and dating violence.”

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