The New York City Department of Education has settled a case with four students who claim the school system failed to protect them against sexual harassment and assault, according to a settlement brief filed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern New York on Friday. Along with a $700,000 monetary settlement split amongst the plaintiffs, the education department also agreed to reform how it investigates and responds to allegations of sexual assault.

“I want justice for everybody,” said the mother of “Jane Doe,” a student with autism who alleged she was raped by a classmate in a school stairwell in the Bronx in 2018.

“Due to that traumatic event, my child suffers every day,” the mother said in an interview with WNYC/Gothamist. She added that the settlement won’t “cure” what happened to her child, but it may prevent others from suffering.

Legal Services NYC filed the suit representing four female students of color with disabilities in spring 2019. Their names have been withheld because of their ages and the nature of the incidents. At the time of the assaults, the students ranged from ages 12 to 18.

Jane Doe and another plaintiff alleged they were raped by classmates after harassment that intensified over months. Two other plaintiffs claimed they were taunted, groped and assaulted by other students.

The suit alleges that, even though the students had been repeatedly harassed by their peers leading up to the assaults, the schools did not intervene effectively, investigate adequately or notify parents in a timely manner. The education department’s “indifference and inaction” denied students their right to education under Title IX and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the lawsuit read.

The education department had already tightened some policies. In fall 2019, it rolled out new regulations expanding the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment, explaining how administrators should conduct investigations, and outlining some supports for students who come forward. The New York City Council increased funding in the Fiscal Year 2020 city budget to pay for additional Title IX liaisons tasked with overseeing investigations at the borough level. The education department also ramped up training for thousands of staff members, including school-based “Sexual Harassment Prevention Liaisons.”

The new settlement seeks to strengthen those regulations even more. They would make it easier for parents to escalate complaints. They detail the steps school staff must take to inform parents when an alleged incident occurs. They enable students to be transferred from a school because of alleged sexual harassment. And they offer more specifics on how schools should support survivors, including considering trauma when crafting a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

“Every student deserves to feel safe, welcomed, and affirmed in their school and there is zero tolerance for sexual and gender-based harassment of any kind at the DOE,” education department spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon said in a statement. “We have made it easier to report harassment and provided more robust trainings for staff so that the strongest safeguards are in place for all students, especially for our students with disabilities.”

Attorneys for the plaintiffs lauded the changes.

“We believe this settlement will better equip school personnel to respond to the trauma of bullying and sexual violence, and will provide critical information to students and families about their rights under the law,” said Amy Leipziger, Senior Staff Attorney at Queens Legal Services.

“These landmark policy reforms will finally force the DOE to recognize that students who experience the disabling impacts of sexual violence, bullying, and trauma are protected under federal disability law and are entitled to receive special education supports and other interventions,” said Katrina Feldkamp, a Staff Attorney at Bronx Legal Services.

The mother of “Jane Doe” said her daughter, now 17, remains traumatized.

“She has her breakdowns,” said the mother. “She can’t focus as she did before. She lost a lot of interest in a lot of things, she’s depressed, she has nightmares.”

“Money will not bring peace to our life,” she added. “We need action.”