Increased Responsibility for Sexual Harassment Claims in School

knowledge, book, library The United States Department of Education released updates to Title IX regulations increasing the responsibility for K-12 schools to report and investigate sexual harassment and assault claims.

The updates require schools to respond to allegations when any school employee has been notified by a student, rather than an earlier proposal limiting these employees to teachers. Starting August 14, schools may be liable if they do not respond to notices by other employees including coaches, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, and others.

Title IX will now formally expand the definition of sexual harassment to include “sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking as unlawful” as reported by Education Dive. The new regulations also take away the requirement of a live hearing between the student victim and the accused, making it now option to go through formal proceedings. Additionally, the new regulations will expand requirements for schools to have options for reporting harassment such as email or telephone, as well as expand the individuals that may report incidents to include parents, bystanders, and friends.

While the Title IX’s response procedures would only kick in if the alleged sexual harassment occurs in a school’s “education program or activity,” which includes “locations, events, or circumstances” over which the school had “substantial control over both the respondent and the context in which the sexual harassment occurs” according to the definitions U.S. Secretary Betsy DeVos clarifed that the regulations are also applicable if the alleged incidents occur in a virtual setting or during distance learning.

From Education Dive:

While a number of school groups acknowledge the positive change compared to the 1975 regulations, they also said the rules put in place new requirements for administrators and staff to follow.

“This is only going to make it more challenging for administrators to do their jobs because now we have a ton of procedures that didn’t exist before,” Sasha Pudelski, advocacy director for AASA, The School Superintendents Association, told Education Dive. She added the regulations “greatly alter” policies from the department’s 2001 guidance that district personnel have been following for almost two decades.

There is also strong concern that the language in the new rules could increase the “pass the trash” phenomenon, in which teachers resign quietly and take a job with another district. According to Education Dive, “education law experts corroborate that the new language would allow schools to dismiss sexual harassment, abuse or assault complaints if the alleged perpetrator quits before or during an investigation.”