February 10 is Rosetta Ragusa’s birthday. This is the same day that Drew Ferraro, 15, .
Drew’s story, his voice, became a community topic focused on bullying, which --although Los Angeles County Sheriff’s homicide investigators and .
In the wake of , former CVHS student Rosetta Ragusa, who is now an adult, came to Patch with her own story of alleged abuse, about which she says the district did nothing.
"To this day I still feel bad about myself. I'm 22 years old, and to this day, those words stick to me, especially as a woman," Ragusa said in an interview with Patch.
"[I was] brutally exposed to teachers, to friends, to the kid that I sat next to in biology class. I was exposed about my private parts, my sexuality, and it was really sad. There were times I wanted to kill myself, but if it wasn't for my support system [then] I probably would have killed myself."
Ragusa's story is part of a complaint she filed against the Glendale Unified School District with the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, saying that she was bullied at CVHS while the district stood idly by.
Ultimately, the U.S. Department of Education found that the district violated federal law and ordered it to revise its policies and procedures for handling complaints of sexual harrassment.
It started when Ragusa was 16. She says that she was discriminated against on the basis of sex: That a group of students were referring to her in sexually explicit terms, calling her names in front of other students, teachers and on MySpace.
"I would get to school at 7 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m., and then I would go home and these same bullies would find me at home through the computer, and they would post and send me messages calling me the same names. Except the reason it hurt so much more was because it was for everyone to see," Ragusa said.
She complained for months to CVHS administration, teachers and Glendale Unified School District officials.
Ragusa’s school attendance suffered, her grades dropped and she also considered physical harm to herself, according to U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights records.
The federal agency conducted interviews with GUSD and the school administration. It concluded that the district failed to fully investigate her allegations, which included in a resolution agreement, according to records from the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights.
Patch has reached out repeatedly to GUSD and school officials, who have yet to respond.
How Ragusa's Sexual Harrasment Allegations Started
In 2006, Ragusa told her guidance counselor and school adminstrators that her ex-boyfriend, Brandon Brotsky, and some of his friends were spreading sexual rumors about her and making sexual comments to her, both during school and on MySpace, according to investigation documents from the U.S. Department of Education.
School staff met with Brotsky, who denied this happened, officials said. Staff observed him but didn't find anything wrong.
But Brotsky now admits to some of the alleged abuse. Patch interviewed Brotsky, who is now 21 but was a 16-year-old junior at the time the incidents started with Ragusa. Brotsky confirms that he confided with two other students and spoke in sexually explicit terms about Ragusa--referring to her private parts.
Brotsky blames Ragusa for making things worse. "I understand why she'd be upset if someone said that about her, but at the same time, by her going and telling everybody about it, she made the whole situation worse," Brotsky said.
Brotsky alleges that Ragusa told other students that he made these comments about her. "What would happen is she would complain so much and say people were spreading rumors, but the truth is that she was telling people and spreading the rumors," Brotsky said.
Still, he admits the exchanges were out of hand.
"I just didn't want to be with her, and all my friends just ganged up on her. She said mean things to them. They said mean things back," Brotsky said.
Rosetta began retaliating during a heated exchange on a public MySpace bulletin board with another student, and other students started siding against her, according to the U.S. Department of Education report.
"Many comments and names directed at the complainant in the exchange were sexual in nature, referring in a derogatory way to private parts of her body, explicitly describing her engaged in sexual acts, impugning her reputation regarding sex and referring to her by gender-specific, sexual terms," the report states.
Ragusa said she couldn't escape the group of students, who she said bullied her at CVHS and after school.
Brotsky says now that he believes Ragusa contributed to the harassment at the time.
"Everything that was said, she took everything that other people said, and made it like she was a victim. She'd make it seem like everyone was out to get her, but that wasn't really the case," Brotsky said.
"All those sexual harrassment things were her fault, because she was the one telling people about it, trying to be a victim," Brotsky said. "I said one thing and she spread it. Honestly, I didn't spread sexual rumors about her."
One student printed out copies of the Myspace exchange and showed them to other students at school, according to the report.
School adminstrators brought Ragusa, Brotsky and several other students into a room for two hours, discussing what happened, the report states.
"It was me with four of the kids that were writing sexual things about me, and I felt overpowered and scared," Ragusa said in a July 2007 email to the Office of Civil Rights in San Francisco.
The students signed a promise treaty, saying that they would not retaliate against each other.
But the abuse went on. Although Ragusa notified administration at CVHS, she said the teasing continued.
"...Later on, throughout the school year, I informed the principal and assistant principals how kids were retaliating out to me, and I felt that the administration was getting tired of hearing me complain about these kids that called me names in the hall and wrote sexual things about me," Ragusa wrote to the agency in her complaint.
In May 2007, Ragusa wrote to former CVHS Principal Linda Evans, detailing the events, indicating that she considered hurting herself, according to the investigation. Evans took immediate action and met with Ragusa and several other school administrators.
In July 2007, Ragusa submitted an electronic complaint to the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights.
"I contacted the [Office of Civil Rights] when I was 16, and I wrote to them. A couple days later they sent me an urgent [package] in the mail that said they needed to open this case immediately," Ragusa said.
The case took about three years to resolve. Both Ragusa and the district received the investigation findings on Oct. 15, 2010.
District Found to Violate Title IX
Because the school and district receive federal funding under Title IX--which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities--the U.S. Department of Education found that the district violated Title IX because procedures weren't clear for handling complaints of sexual harrassment.
Both the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, and Ragusa had requests for the school and district.
"After I won this case, I told the school district what I expected from them. I made a list with the [California] Women's Law Center of certain things that I wanted them to prevent bullying and to prevent suicides like Drew's," Ragusa said.
Ragusa didn't want other students to face bullying.
"I asked them to have a schoolwide bullying prevention program and easy access to counselors when you are getting bullied and a lot of awareness about bullying in the school to show students that you're not alone and it's not tolerated," Ragusa said.
The school's sexual harassment policy was revised and the school was required to notify parents and students of this policy, according to the resolution agreement.
In addition, the district was required to instruct teachers how to best respond to allegations of sexual harrassment to specifically, Crescenta Valley High School employees and district level staff who investigate and respond to these complaints, the resolution states.
Student instruction on sexual harassment was also required, to show other students how they could handle complaints like Ragusa's.
By June 2011, GUSD was asked to provide a report of all sexual harrassment complaints filed during the 2010-2011 school year and the district's response to those complaints, according to the resolution, signed by GUSD Superintendent Dr. Richard Sheehan on Oct. 13, 2010.
Patch tried repeatedly to reach out to the district. GUSD officials did not return several phone calls and emails to Patch.
That resolution agreement is currently being monitored to ensure it is fully implemented, according to a U.S. Department of Education.
Life for Ragusa Following the Investigation of GUSD
Although Ragusa is a 22-year-old woman, she says she can't forget the students booing her while her name was called at Crescenta Valley High School's graduation.
It's been a several years since the investigation closed. A club called Stand Up, Speak Out Against Bullying now meets at CVHS to discuss student bullying problems.
Following Drew's campus suicide, , and students met together at the Firehouse, a La Crescenta teen center.
The school also added a communication tool for students called "The Box" in the entry way of the counseling office, which allows students to share a thought or concern anonymously.
While this may help students at the school today, Ragusa still remembers the harrassment and was shocked to hear about Drew's suicide.
"I just feel that this shouldn't have happened to Drew because there have been so many cases in the media," Ragusa said.
"The district violated their student's civil rights," Ragusa said, speaking of herself. "I feel like they failed Drew, just like they failed me."