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White House Addresses Sexual Misconduct in K-12 Schools

A new notice and resource materials from the White House remind K-12 schools of their obligations to prevent and address sexual misconduct under Title IX of the Education Act of 1972. Like colleges and universities, K-12 school districts have a legal obligation under Title IX to respond to allegations of sexual misconduct.

The White House’s Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault’s September 19, 2016 notice offers suggestions for how school districts should draft and implement sexual misconduct policies. The notice did not issue new regulations, only reminded schools of existing obligations under Title IX and its implementing regulations.

The notice encourages school districts to develop a separate, freestanding sexual misconduct policy. The Task Force cautioned school districts to engage in a comprehensive drafting process, considering the unique aspects of the districts and their student body.

The goal of the drafting process, the Task Force explained, is to create a policy that is user-friendly, age-appropriate and appropriate in tone, when reviewed from the prospective of a student who has been affected by sexual misconduct.

To facilitate this goal, the Task Force suggests that districts seek comments on aspects of the policy from “key stakeholders” — students, parents, employees, student groups (including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups and students with limited English language skills), student resource officers, local law enforcement, survivors of sexual misconduct, victim support services providers, and local departments of children and family services. The notice suggests that districts draw on key stakeholder experience and expertise, and imagines an open dialogue between school districts and these key stakeholders throughout the drafting process.

Drafting Tips

In drafting sexual misconduct policies, the Task Force suggested that school policies should:

  • Include a clear statement of the district’s prohibition against sex discrimination and commitment to address sexual misconduct;

  • Clearly define the persons and conduct covered by the policy, including a definition of consent;

  • Explicitly cover every school, alternative setting, and other worksite within the district, as well as school-sponsored and school-recognized activities off of school grounds (i.e., athletic events or field trips);

  • Identify the Title IX coordinator and explain his or her role in responding to sexual misconduct;

  • Identify resources for victims of sexual misconduct who are seeking immediate assistance, and explain mandatory reporting obligations;

  • Offer resources for ongoing assistance for victims of sexual misconduct, including counseling, academic accommodations, and interim measures;

  • Provide details regarding formal and informal reporting procedures; and

  • Outline the stages of proceedings for bringing a complaint of sexual misconduct.

The Task Force also encouraged school districts to provide details of prevention plans and training efforts in sexual misconduct policies.

“Safe Place to Learn”

In conjunction with the notice, the Department of Education (DOE) and the White House Council on Women and Girls released Safe Place to Learn, an online, interactive resource package. Safe Place to Learn is funded by the DOE and provides resources to support school efforts to prevent and eliminate peer-to-peer sexual harassment and sexual violence. The resource package includes guidance for administrators, e-learning modules for all school staff, a coordinated response team planning guide and training module, a trauma sensitivity training module, and action steps, discussion guides, bystander supports, and other resources.

The Obama Administration has been active in addressing sexual assault, including issuance of several Dear Colleague Letters (DCL), the most influential of which was published in April 2011.

While the DCLs have addressed both K-12 and collegiate learning environments, the vast majority of their impact to date has been felt in the higher education environment. Some experts believe that addressing college sexual assault should start during the K-12 curriculum. The September 19 notice and Safe Place to Learn are intended to serve this purpose.

Next Steps

School districts should consider whether revisions are necessary to their sexual misconduct policies. Districts also should train school administrators, human resources, and faculty on how best to respond to reports of sexual misconduct.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume VI, Number 281

TRENDING LEGAL ANALYSIS


About this Author

Thomas Dorer, Principal, Hartford, Title IX, College, Universities, Jackson Lewis Law Firm
Principal

Thomas Dorer is a Principal in the Hartford, Connecticut, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. His practice focuses on representing colleges and universities in student and academic affairs and in workplace law matters, including preventive advice and counseling. Mr. Dorer serves as co-lead of Jackson Lewis’ Higher Education Industry Group.

Before arriving at Jackson Lewis, Mr. Dorer served as Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary at the University of Hartford, where he was responsible for the full scope of legal issues impacting higher education, including employment law, student...

860-331-1533
Susan D. Friedfel Employment law attorney for educational instituions in White Plains, NY of Jackson Lewis law firm
Principal

Susan D. Friedfel is a Principal in the White Plains and New York, New York, offices of Jackson Lewis P.C.

Ms. Friedfel collaborates with clients to find practical solutions for a variety of issues that arise in the workplace. She counsels clients in various industries, including law firms, financial institutions, educational institutions, and not-for-profit organizations, on a wide array of issues.

Susan D. Friedfel  provides advice and counsel on matters such as:

  • employee recruiting and hiring practices
  • family and medical leave
  • reasonable accommodations for disabilities and religion
  • preventing and investigating harassment, discrimination and whistleblower claims
  • wage and hour compliance
  • discipline and termination of employees
  • designing and implementing reductions in force

An experienced litigator, Ms. Friedfel represents employers and management in harassment, discrimination, failure to accommodate, and wage and hour claims before federal and state courts and administrative agencies. 

In addition to litigating on behalf of and advising Universities regarding the employment issues discussed above, Ms. Friedfel advises clients regarding student claims of sexual harassment, sexual assault, failure to accommodate disabilities, discrimination and retaliation, as well as Title IX athletics compliance. Ms. Friedfel represents universities in litigation brought by students and faculty and in OCR investigations. She also advises private k-12 schools and other organizations that regularly deal with children, with respect to appropriate policies and procedures to avoid misconduct.

914-872-8027
Bethany Wagner, NCAA Attorney, Jackson Lewis Law Firm
Associate

Bethany Swaton Wagner is an Associate in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She practices in the areas of employment and Title IX and NCAA compliance.

In her employment practice, Ms. Wagner focuses on preventative human resource policy development, training, and advice and counseling. She also develops and reviews policy and handbooks, particularly for multi-state issues and compliance. In addition, Ms. Wagner represents employers in employment-related litigation before administrative agencies and courts on the federal and state levels...

412-338-5149
Associate

Mariah H. McGrogan is an Associate in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Her practice focuses on representing employers in labor and employment-related litigation, in federal and state courts in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia. 

Ms. McGrogan also has experience counseling educational institutions on issues related to Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Clery Act and the Campus SAVE Act.

Before joining Jackson Lewis, Ms. McGrogan was an associate...

412-338-5187