Fairview High Principal Don Stensrud on leave after sexual assault lawsuit

The principal at Boulder’s Fairview High School has been placed on paid administrative leave while school district officials investigate claims made in a federal lawsuit that the principal fostered an environment permissive of sexual assault at the high school.

Principal Don Stensrud was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, filed Friday, along with the Boulder Valley School District. Two former Fairview students claimed in the lawsuit that leaders at the high school knew during the 2016-2017 school year that a student-athlete was accused of raping at least two other students, but failed to investigate and did not protect students from facing a hostile environment at school.

The school and Stensrud “repeatedly turned a blind eye to rampant sexual harassment and abuse,” the lawsuit states. Stensrud could not be reached for comment Wednesday; a spokesman for the school district did not immediately return a request for comment.

In a Tuesday email to students and parents, Robbyn Fernandez, assistant superintendent of schools, said Stensrud’s paid leave “in no way indicates a presumption of guilt or wrongdoing.” Boulder Valley School District administrator Terry Gillach will fill Stensrud’s role during the investigation, she wrote in the email.

Sophie Dellinger, who as a student and 2020 Fairview graduate pushed the school to change its approach to sexual assault issues, said Wednesday that she’s glad to see the investigation into Stensrud.

“From the lawsuit, it clearly shows that he is a danger to the school community, almost, because of his failure to report and respond to these allegations,” she said, adding later, “This just shines a light on, and clarifies, something that people already knew. Fairview students especially have known that Fairview administration across the board and BVSD haven’t done the greatest job, historically, responding to instances like this.”

Dellinger is part of the school district’s new Title IX Advisory Council, which was one of several changes made after Fairview’s former star quarterback, Aidan Atkinson, was charged with sexual assault in late 2019. He was acquitted of sexual assault and pleaded guilty to harassment earlier this year. The case prompted Dellinger and others to call for change at the high school.

During the 2020-2021 school year, the school district adopted a new student code of conduct and provided additional training to staff on sexual assault and Title IX, Fernandez wrote in the email. The school district this year hired a Title IX coordinator, she added.

Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and requires schools that receive federal funding to investigate and remedy hostile educational environments, among other obligations.

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