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Sexual assault reports sharply increased at K-12 schools, numbering nearly 14,000, Education Department data shows
Oct 16th, 2020 by billhowe

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Sexual assault reports sharply increased at K-12 schools, numbering nearly 14,000, Education Department data shows

Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos announced changes in how schools handle sexual violence in 2017 that critics say could make it more difficult for victims to get justice. (J. Lawler Duggan for The Washington Post)
Education Department Secretary Betsy DeVos announced changes in how schools handle sexual violence in 2017 that critics say could make it more difficult for victims to get justice. (J. Lawler Duggan for The Washington Post)

By Moriah BalingitOct. 15, 2020 at 7:07 p.m. EDT

The Education Department found that reports of sexual assaults at elementary, middle and high schools increased sharply between 2015 and 2018, a finding advocates say underscores the need for more schools to be prepared to handle reports of sexual violence.

The finding was drawn from the Civil Rights Data Collection, a compilation of data drawn from surveys of every public school, charter school and juvenile justice facility in the nation. It was published by the department Thursday. The collection contains in-depth information about schools, including their demographics, the access students have to advanced coursework and the number of times students were arrested on school grounds. It is intended to help the department enforce civil rights law and has been a critical tool for advocates who seek to ensure schools are treating every child — regardless of race, gender or disability — fairly.

The Education Department found that reports of sexual violence at schools rose from about 9,600 in the 2015-2016 school year to nearly 15,000 in the 2017-2018 school year. That’s an increase of more than 50 percent.

“We hear all too often about innocent children being sexually assaulted by an adult at school. That should never happen. No parent should have to think twice about their child’s safety while on school grounds,” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in an issue brief that was published alongside the report.

The discourse around sexual assault has typically revolved around college campuses, where surveys found that up to one in five women experience sexual violence. Under President Barack Obama, the Education Department stepped up enforcement of civil rights laws that required colleges and universities to investigate claims of sexual assault.

But it has gotten far less attention in the K-12 setting, where administrators are far more likely to be unprepared or unaware of their obligations under federal law when it comes to handling allegations of sexual assault. Unlike colleges, where students often get training or information about where to go to report a sexual assault, grade school students might not know who to tell.

Shiwali Patel, director of justice for student survivors and senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, said the data probably represents an undercount of the sexual violence students have experienced. She has represented female students who were accused of lying and suspended from school for reporting assaults. In one case, a student who reported that she had been assaulted was pressured into recanting and then punished.

“There is so much more that needs to be done in the K-12 space to increase awareness around Title IX and sex discrimination and sexual harassment,” Patel said.

Patel said the uptick in reports could be due to better awareness around sexual assault and a movement that emboldened survivors of sexual assault to speak up. The 2017-2018 school year began just as the #MeToo movement was beginning to pick up steam — and it may have made some students more comfortable in coming forward.

The data released Thursday contained another stark finding about seclusion and restraint — practices that have historically been underreported by school districts. Seclusion is a practice that often involves segregating a disruptive student into a room or an enclosed space alone — which critics say can exacerbate whatever is driving the outburst and take them away from their education. Restraints can refer to the use of handcuffs or other equipment, or grabbing a student and holding them down.

The data showed that special education students, who represent about 13 percent of the entire school population, accounted for 80 percent of reports of seclusion and restraint.

Advocates for students with disabilities say seclusion and restraints become necessary when staff are not trained on how to de-escalate a child’s behavior.

“It’s almost the inevitable outcome in the failure to provide the supports children with disabilities need,” said Diane Smith Howard, the managing attorney for criminal and juvenile justice for the National Disability Rights Network. She said situations that end with a child being restrained often begin as something small, like a child refusing to put on shoes, and escalate from there.

A number of high-profile cases have highlighted the danger. In September of 2018, a school police officer handcuffed a boy with autism and left him on the ground for 40 minutes, according to footage that surfaced because of a lawsuit. In Michigan this year, a teenager died after being held down by staff at a residential treatment facility, resulting in criminal charges.

The pandemic could only exacerbate issues, leading to children and staff returning to classrooms with trauma wrought by the lockdown and shortages in people trained to deal with children with disabilities.

“There may be issues where school staff may be cut. Then we may end up in a situation where staff are trying to care for too many children and end up using seclusion and restraint,” Smith Howard said. “There’s just a lot of pieces there that could result in children having greater needs.”

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OCR Short Webinar on Sexual Violence in Public Schools Unlisted
Mar 8th, 2020 by billhowe

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Settlement Approved in Miami-Dade County School Sexual Assault Lawsuit
Nov 20th, 2019 by billhowe

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(Miami, FL) This week, a federal court in Florida approved a settlement in Jane Doe v. The School Board of Miami-Dade County. The case was originally filed in January 2019 by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) with co-counsel Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP and Florida attorneys, Allison Hertog and Alice K. Nelson. The complaint alleged a school in Miami-Dade County Public Schools (MDCPS) – the fourth-largest school district in the country – failed to respond to a student’s reports of sexual harassment and multiple sexual assaults, punished her by suspending her from school when she reported the harassment and assaults, and failed to train school employees on how to respond to student-on-student sexual misconduct.

The parties involved are issuing the following joint statement:

“As a result of a settlement in the case of Jane Doe v. The School Board of Miami-Dade County, Florida, the National Women’s Law Center will work with Miami-Dade County Public Schools to ensure Jane Doe’s equal access to educational opportunities and to provide the District with additional materials and resources to consider for use in the District’s Title IX training for employees and the District’s harassment and bullying curriculum for students.”

Attorneys at NWLC are available for interview on Title IX and schools’ responsibility to ensure student safety.

### 

For immediate release: November 19, 2019
Contact: Olympia Feil (ofeil@nwlc.org)

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Feds Aim for Fall Release of Campus Sexual Misconduct Rule
May 11th, 2018 by billhowe

Source: https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2018/05/11/feds-aim-fall-release-campus-sexual-misconduct-rule?utm_source=Inside+Higher+Ed&utm_campaign=6f6e6b0d05-DNU20180111&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1fc

 

May 11, 2018

The Department of Education plans to issue a draft regulation in September governing colleges’ handling of campus sexual misconduct, according to an update of the Trump administration’s federal regulatory agenda this week.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said when she rescinded Obama administration guidance on campus sexual assault that her department would issue a new binding regulation within the next year. The department indicated later that a new rule could be released as soon as this spring.

“I don’t read too much into it other than the fact that this is really hard and they’re trying to get it right,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs at the American Council on Education.

Hartle said that in a best-case scenario for the department, it would take between three and four months to review comments on a proposed rule and submit a final regulation. That could mean assuming a September release date of a proposed rule, a final regulation may not be issued until next spring.

The Department of Education, meanwhile, is still waiting for Senate confirmation of Kenneth L. Marcus, the White House nominee for assistant secretary for civil rights. The Office for Civil Rights, which Marcus would lead if confirmed, would oversee colleges’ compliance with a new regulation.

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Title IX and Private K-12 Schools
Mar 19th, 2018 by billhowe

Source: http://stopsexualassaultinschools.org/guest/title-ix-and-private-k-12-schools/

Stop Sexual Assault in Schools

Educating students, families, and schools about the right to an equal education free from sexual harassment

Title IX and Private K-12 Schools

by Christine Garner, with input from Bill Howe and SSAIS.

This FAQ is about Title IX and private K-12 schools. It is not intended as definitive legal advice. We recommend that you contact an attorney to review your specific situation. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) continues to change its guidance. This information is based upon guidance provided prior to March 10, 2018.

Is a private K-12 school required to comply with Title IX?

Title IX states that “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”  If a private school receives any federal financial assistance then it must comply with Title IX, unless the school has a legitimate religious exemption (see below).

The courts have ruled that even if one department of a school receives federal financial assistance, the entire school must abide by Title IX.  If a private school is part of an entity with more than one school, then all schools within the entity must adhere to Title IX, even if only one of the entity’s schools receives federal financial assistance.

Does a private religious school have to comply with Title IX?

If a private religious school accepts federal financial assistance, then it is required to comply with Title IX. A religious school can claim an exemption from Title IX requirements that it believes would be inconsistent with its religious tenets. Religious schools may apply to the Department of Education for exemptions to Title IX requirements, but a school is not required to file a written claim for an exemption to be valid.  The school can raise the religious exemption in response to a Title IX complaint.

The most common religious exemptions apply to sports, pregnant students, or LGTBQ rights. It is difficult to envision a valid religious tenet that would exempt a school from having to address sexual harassment or sexual assault.  If a religious school claims an exemption, you could still file a complaint, and OCR will decide if the exemption is valid.

What qualifies as federal financial assistance?

The Department of Justice (DoJ) defines federal financial assistance as “the award or grant of money.” The DoJ definition continues:

However, federal financial assistance may also be in nonmonetary form… [F]ederal financial assistance may include the use or rent of federal land or property at below market value, federal training, a loan of federal personnel, subsidies, and other arrangements with the intention of providing assistance. Federal financial assistance does not encompass contracts of guarantee or insurance by the federal government. It is also important to remember that not only must an entity receive federal financial assistance to be subject to Title IX, but the entity also must receive federal assistance at the time of the alleged discriminatory act(s) except for assistance provided in the form of real or personal property. In this situation, the recipient is subject to Title IX for as long as it uses the property.

Private K-12 schools usually receive financial assistance from the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, or the Department of Health and Human Services.  Private schools might also receive financial assistance from other federal agencies.

If a student or teacher at a private school receives Title I or special education services from a public school, does that mean the private school is a recipient of federal financial assistance?

Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) require public school districts to provide eligible students with special education resources and also to provide “equitable services” to eligible children in private schools. If a private school student or teacher receives “equitable services” from a public school, that does not mean that the private school is a recipient of federal financial assistance.  Department of Education policy does not consider services provided to private school students or teachers under ESEA Title I or IDEA as federal funds given to the school.

How do you know whether your private school receives federal financial assistance?

First, ask the private school administration if they receive federal financial assistance. The school should know because they are required to sign an Assurance of Compliance prior to receiving the funds. The assurance of compliance states only that the school “assures” the federal agency that the school complies with Title IX and the other federal civil rights laws. The signed assurance of compliance does not mean the federal agency has audited to see if the school is truly in compliance.

If the school refuses to answer or you do not trust their answer, you can search USAspending.gov (see instructions below) or the Federal Audit Clearinghouse. These databases show the federal financial award amount and the agency that provided the money. Even if the school does not appear in one of these databases, it still might receive federal financial assistance.

If you cannot verify whether your private school receives federal financial assistance, you can still file a Title IX complaint with OCR, and they will determine if the school receives funds from the Department of Education. It’s best to consult with an attorney first to determine the best course of action because you can lose valuable time waiting for a determination from OCR.

If my private school does receive federal financial assistance, how do I a file complaint under Title IX?

If you are not able to resolve your complaint with the private school, you can file a lawsuit or file a complaint through the civil rights department of the federal agency that provided the school with financial assistance. The three most common sources of federal financial assistance to private K-12 schools are the Department of Education, the Department of Agriculture, and Department of Health and Human Services.

Here are the links to file complaints:

OCR sets the standard for review of a Title IX complaint, even if another federal agency is processing that complaint. If a private school receives funds from more than one federal agency, you only need file a complaint with one agency. It’s preferable to file a complaint through the Department of Education if your school receives funds from the Department of Education.

When must I file my Title IX complaint?

You must file a Title IX complaint within 180 days of the latest occurrence of the discrimination.  If you filed a complaint through your school’s grievance process and you feel your Title IX rights were violated, you can file a complaint with OCR within 60 days after the last act in the school’s grievance process. OCR sometimes grants a waiver of the 180-day filing period, but it’s best to submit your complaint within that time frame. Because discrimination can be ongoing, discuss your filing deadline with an attorney as soon as you discover the discrimination.

What if my private school isn’t required to comply with Title IX?

You do not need to rely only on Title IX to prove sexual harassment and sexual assault are wrong. Even if your private school is not required to comply with Title IX, you can still demand that it address these issues and live up to Title IX standards. If a student is a victim of sexual assault at a private school, the action is still wrong and the school should respond to protect and help the victim. Depending on the facts, a private school might be liable for breach of contract, negligent supervision, or some other legal theory that would be best discussed with an attorney.

As noted in the Assurance of Compliance, schools must also comply with other civil rights laws and an incident could violate more than one law. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. Discrimination based upon disability is prohibited by Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Age discrimination is prohibited by the Age Discrimination Act of 1975.

Most states have their own anti-bullying laws. These statutes define bullying in different ways. Check with an attorney about whether a private school must comply with anti-bullying laws in your state.

In conclusion, if a student has been a victim of sexual harassment, do not give up. You have the right to demand protection and help from your private school.

Legal disclaimer



Instructions on how to conduct a search on the USA Spending website:

  1. Browse to USAspending.gov advanced search webpage.
  2. On the left side, in the Filters box, under Time Period, select All Fiscal Years.
  3. In the Filters box, click Award Type, and select all of the categories (ContractsGrantsDirectPaymentsLoans, and Other).
  4. In the Filters box, click Recipient, and in the Recipient Name search box, enter the name of the school or portion of the name, and then click the search icon (magnifying glass).
  5. Scroll to the top or to the bottom of the Filters box, and then click Submit Search.
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