Category Archives: SSAIS Blog

Comment on ED’s proposed amendments to Title IX regulations

During the 60-day comment period that ended January 30, 2019, individuals and organizations submitted over 100,000 comments in response to the Department of Education’s proposed rules regarding sexual harassment and Title IX.

Below is an excerpt from the SSAIS comment, which focused on the deleterious effects of the proposed rules on K-12 students.

Kenneth L. Marcus
Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights
Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington DC, 20202

Re: ED Docket No. ED-2018-OCR-0064, RIN 1870-AA14, Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Sex in Education Programs or Activities Receiving Federal Financial Assistance.

Dear Mr. Marcus,

On behalf of the national nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) I wish to voice our organization’s strong opposition to the proposal by the Department of Education (the Department) to amend rules implementing Title IX of the Education Amendment Act of 1972 (Title IX), as published in the Notice of Public Rulemaking (NPRM) on November 29, 2018.

For the past four years, SSAIS has been educating K-12 students, families, and schools about the right to an equal education free from sexual harassment. We hear regularly from students and families across the country how their schools have mishandled sexual harassment complaints. These first-hand accounts paint an alarming and disturbing picture of traumatized young students whose educations have been derailed because school officials ignore, deny, or mismanage reported sexual misconduct.

I also speak from personal experience. Our family’s life was devastated when our high-school age daughter was sexually assaulted by a classmate on a multi-day school field trip. Her school’s failure to recognize her federally mandated Title IX rights, to acknowledge her report of sexual assault as required, to promptly and equitably investigate, to prevent retaliation, and to treat her with basic human dignity has been life-scaring beyond imagination. Our efforts to hold those accountable were met with avoidance, denial, misinformation, falsification, and violations at every juncture.

From our family’s and organization’s experience, we believe the proposed rules will further harm K-12 students who report sexual harassment to their schools and discourage victimized students from coming forward. As explained in our analysis below, the result of the proposed rules on K-12 students will be to worsen sex discrimination in K-12 schools, precisely in contradiction to the spirit of Title IX.

Read the complete comment.

Why the proposed changes to Title IX regulations matter to K-12 schools

An original version of this piece appeared in Ms. Magazine Blog as Speaking Up for Survivors in K-12 Schools. This blog also appeared in Education Post as DeVos Is Planning to Rollback Guidelines That Protect Students From Sexual Assault.

As the parent of a high school sexual assault survivor, I’ve seen how pervasive sexual harassment and assault in our K-12 schools can shake entire communities. That’s why I’m sounding the alarm about the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back Title IX guidelines for sexual misconduct.

National surveys show that most students will experience some form of sexual harassment during their elementary and secondary school years—yet most K-12 schools are not well-prepared to respond appropriately when they learn that a student has sexually harassed or assaulted a peer, or that a teacher sexually abused a student. The Department of Education’s proposed changes to Title IX regulations will only make the problem worse, increasing barriers for students and families reporting sexual harassment and confuse school officials who already lack clear guidance on how to respond appropriately.

Until now, the department followed court precedent—defining sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.” Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s proposed changes, however, require schools to take action only when harassment is “so severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” that it denies a student access to the school’s educational program. (No guidance was offered as to what “severe” and “objectively offensive” harassment looks like in elementary, middle, or high school.)

These new rules would force school districts to navigate competing definitions of sexual harassment from state law and existing district policies and complicate schools’ efforts to respond promptly and effectively to student complaints. This doesn’t just create obstacles for students and parents who want schools to take immediate action to remedy harassment—it allows schools to disregard sexual harassment complaints until they escalate to a subjective threshold, effectively empowering them to sweep inconvenient cases of harassment and assault under the rug indefinitely.

These new rules would force school districts to navigate competing definitions of sexual harassment from state law and existing district policies and complicate schools’ efforts to respond promptly and effectively to student complaints. This doesn’t just create obstacles for students and parents who want schools to take immediate action to remedy harassment—it allows schools to disregard sexual harassment complaints until they escalate to a subjective threshold, effectively empowering them to sweep inconvenient cases of harassment and assault under the rug indefinitely.

The proposed regulations also require schools to have “actual knowledge” of peer sexual harassment—meaning that misconduct must be reported to a Title IX coordinator, teacher or unspecified school official who can take “corrective action.” That means that if a middle school student told a coach or school nurse that they were sexually assaulted by a peer, their administration would not be required to take Title IX action, because the “right” person wasn’t notified. Teachers would also have no authority to address a student’s report of sexual harassment by another teacher.

The new rules also reverse previous guidance that required schools to address the effects of off-campus sexual assault or cyber sexual harassment if and when they interfere with a student’s opportunity to an equal education—meaning that even if a student sexually assaulted by a peer at a friend’s house sees their assailant every day at school and endures taunts and threats from the perpetrator’s friends in person or electronically, the school could disregard the sexual harassment complaint because it didn’t take place on school grounds.

This creates potential complications in jurisdictions where all school staff are mandatory reporters. In these schools, the coach or nurse must notify either law enforcement or child welfare agency of possible child abuse, creating scenarios where the school does not officially recognize that sexual assault occurred, even while public safety organizations are put on notice of possible child endangerment.

Many K-12 students and parents complain that when they inform school officials about sexual harassment or assault, there’s no immediate response or action taken. Whereas previous guidance from the Department of Education recommended that schools complete their Title IX investigations within 60 days, the Trump administration’s new rules mandate only that such investigations be “reasonably prompt” and permit schools to postpone investigations until completion of “law enforcement activity,” which might extend for months. Meanwhile, as schools take no action, students reporting sexual harassment might continue to experience retaliation and other forms of re-victimization that prevent them from keeping up academically and participating in school activities.

Although previous guidance considered mediation inappropriate, because it would likely re-traumatize the reporting student, the Trump administration’s proposed Title IX changes would permit K-12 schools to resolve formal sexual harassment and assault complaints through alternative resolution procedures. Under the new rules, school officials could pressure a reporting student in elementary school to agree to an informal resolution, allowing a district to forgo its duty to conduct a Title IX investigation and obligatory mediation could frighten young students from reporting sexual harassment by peers and school staff.

The Department of Education has attempted to justify these proposed changes to Title IX as clarifying regulations and saving schools money spent investigating complaints—insinuating that it is too burdensome and costly for schools to ensure students’ civil rights to an education free from sex discrimination, and that the solution is to make it easier for schools to deny and delay responding effectively.

Yet even that excuse falls short. It’s not clear at all how much the proposed regulations would offer regulatory relief or cost savings, and schools would wrestle with untangling the new Title IX rules from state non-discrimination laws and existing district policies—which, for the most part are consistent with previous Title IX guidance. In the end, schools could still be sued for violating state non-discrimination statutes and tort laws.

Betsy DeVos and the Trump administration are taking precisely the wrong approach. The solution to K-12 schools mishandling sexual harassment complaints isn’t regulatory, but educational. The department should offer school districts training and technical assistance, amplifying its 2001 guidance, which addressed due process, freedom of speech, confidentiality, and proactive measures as they apply to Title IX. Instead, they’re bailing administrators out of their responsibility to keep students safe in school.

It’s imperative that all school staff have training on fair and effective Title IX guidance so we can stop the cycle of sexual harassment and violence—in K-12 schools, colleges, the workplace and beyond.

The Department of Education’s comment period on the proposed Title IX regulations has been extended to January 30, 2019. Click here to learn more and speak up for survivors.

You can also visit handsoffix.org to comment.

Combating K-12 Sexual Harassment in 2018

In 2018 Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS) continued directing national awareness to the sexual harassment epidemic in K-12 schools.

On New Year’s Day, SSAIS launched its #MeTooK12 campaign to promote awareness and inspire action to counteract pervasive sexual harassment and sexual violence in K-12 schools. Approximately 50 media articles reported on the campaign, including Education Week, The Washington Post, New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Ms. Magazine, and Teen Vogue. Now This Her dedicated an entire video to the SSAIS #MeTooK12 initiative and activists.

SSAIS partnered with experts to create new resources to combat K-12 sexual harassment, including You Can Become the Agent of Change for Title IX Policies in Your SchoolsExposing a Sexual Abuse Scandal at a Private School, and How to File a Title IX Complaint in K-12 Schools. The National Women’s Law Center, partners in the #MeTooK12  launch, also created new resources.

SSAIS also participated in the American Federation of Teachers #MeTooK12 keynote webinar, and made its curated list of #MeTooK12 resources available to the American Federation of Teachers Share My Lesson library.

Also this year, SSAIS:

  • Expanded its work on the rights of private school families after discovering that Betsy DeVos’s high school alma mater violated Title IX.
  • Created Ending K-12 Sexual Harassment: A Toolkit for Parents and Allies. This toolkit helps parents find out what their schools should be doing to end sexual harassment and provides concrete steps communities can take to promote transparent and effective policies, Title IX compliance, and sustainable school culture change.
  • Launched Students Against Sexual Harassment (SASH), the student activist arm of SSAIS.
  • Formed the Coalition Against Sexual Harassment K12 (CASHK12), an online resource for advocates to exchange information. (Contact SSAIS to join.)
  • Created a #Hands Off IX web resource to combat the regressive proposals to weaken Title IX in K-12 schools.

With SSAIS urging, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden cosponsored the Patsy T. Mink and Louise M. Slaughter Gender Equity in Education Act of 2018. This legislation would provide additional resources for schools, school districts, and states to fully implement the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act (aka Title IX).

SSAIS also worked with members of the Oregon congressional delegation (Senator Wyden and Representatives Bonamici and Blumenauer) to submit a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department of Education Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The request asks OCR to produce findings from all investigations into K-12 sex discrimination complaints from the past five years and the mandated annual report for 2017.

SSAIS cofounder/Program Director Joel Levin participated in a Quora session on sexual harassment in K-12 schools.

We would like to thank all who donated to SSAIS this year. As an all-volunteer nonprofit, SSAIS relies on individual contributions to help continue our initiatives in the coming year. You can donate here.

We wish you a happy and fulfilling 2019. Join us in addressing sexual harassment where it begins, in K-12 schools.

SSAIS April Newsletter

April 28, 2018

It’s been an incredibly busy 2018 for SSAIS. Here are the highlights and new resources for you to explore.

#MeTooK12

The movement to address sexual harassment and assault in K-12  schools received new impetus with the launch of the #MeTooK12 campaign, an SSAIS initiative in partnership with the National Women’s Law Center. We unveiled the new hashtag on social media as #MeToo creator Tarana Burke rang in 2018 at Times Square. #MeTooK12 connects the dots between sexual harassment in K-12 schools, college, and the workplace. The movement both promotes awareness and inspires action to counteract pervasive sexual harassment and sexual violence in K-12 schools.

Over 35 TV, radio, print, and online media reports feature the new SSAIS initiative, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, Teen Vogue, and more.

Ms. Magazine published “#MeTooK12: Teens are Speaking Out About Assault and Harassment in Schools,” by SSAIS teen advisor Minnah Stein. Education Post published SSAIS advisor Michelle Seyler’s “I Was Sexually Abused by Another Student and It Never Should Have Happened.” Advisor Chellie Labonete’s tweets appear in many media reports, and the SSAIS Co-founders contributed to several print and TV outlets. There’s also a Wikipedia entry on the #MeTooK12 campaign.

New resources are regularly added to the SSAIS #MeTooK12 webpage. One of our favorites is Susan Moen’s blog, “Parents: You Can Become the Agent of Change for Title IX Policies in Your Schools.”

Visit the #MeTooK12 webpage and #MeTooK12 Facebook page for the latest postings.

New Free SSAIS Toolkit 

SSAIS has just released a new online toolkit and PSA for parents, students, and their allies to address K-12 sexual harassment and assault. Share it widely.

SSAIS Delves into Students’ Rights at Private Schools

SSAIS announced that a survivor’s family filed an important Title IX lawsuit against U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s alma mater, Holland Christian School. The lawsuit resulted after the family contacted SSAIS and learned about their Title IX rights. Watch the short SSAIS video to learn what this case means for all students.

SSAIS created a new webpage to inform K-12 private schools families about their Title IX rights. It includes an important blog, Private K-12 Schools and Title IX, and a video created especially for SSAIS by the parents of Chessy Prout, the survivor of the St. Paul’s School rape, which received international attention.

New Resource on How to File a Title IX Complaint

SSAIS collaborated with Dr. Bill Howe to create the guide How to File a Title IX Complaint in K-12 Schools: A Guide for Parents and Guardians. It’s for those wanting to file a complaint regarding sexual harassment, sexual violence, sex discrimination, and other violations of state and federal civil rights laws regarding gender discrimination.

American Federation of Teachers Virtual Conference Keynote Session

SSAIS joined The National Women’s Law Center and Planned Parenthood to present a keynote session at the American Federation of Teachers Share My Lesson annual Virtual Conference. Watch the recorded session #MeTooK12 and #MeToo: What does it mean for schools? (free registration required).

Supporting Families

SSAIS continues to help families whose schools have violated their right to an education free from sexual harassment and assault.

We recently focused on the case of high school freshman Katlin Hoffman in North Carolina. We connected her with a journalist who profiled her case in an article titled “This girl reported being sexually assaulted twice at her high school. Her principal told her to ‘toughen up’ and get over it.” FOX 46 television in Charlotte interviewed SSAIS about Katlin’s case.

SSAIS in Wikipedia

SSAIS now has its own Wikipedia entry.

Support SSAIS

Everyone at SSAIS is a volunteer, so 100% of your tax-deductible donation goes to free education programs. Every contribution in any amount counts. Thank you!

The Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Betsy DeVos’s High School Alma Mater: What It Means For Every Student

by Esther Warkov, Executive Director, SSAIS

There are phone calls a parent never wants to get. We received one such call, informing us that our daughter had been raped on a school field trip. Living through the nightmare of the rape and its aftermath was devastating, but equally traumatic was the fallout we experienced when the school failed to uphold our daughter’s civil rights under Title IX.  Like countless families, we became victims of “institutional betrayal,” as I describe in Why We Need Title IX to Let Her Learn: A Parent’s Perspective. Little did we know our experience would later provide an opportunity to educate the US Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, about the violation of Title IX in her own alma mater, Holland Christian School, and to explain why this lawsuit is so important for all students.

As secondary victims of our daughter’s assault, we parents have come full circle: we are empowered advocates, educating families about their rights under Title IX, the civil rights law we knew little about when we needed it the most. Our understanding of Title IX now likely exceeds that of US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. It’s both ironic and telling that parents who were once victims are obliged to call out Betsy DeVos’s alma mater for violating Title IX.  Although we deplore the weak level of Title IX enforcement in both public and private schools, we take satisfaction in the opportunity to use this case as a “teachable moment.”

Today, we announce the lawsuit against Holland Christian School and explain what this means for millions of public and private school students. Learn why in short video The Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Betsy DeVos’s High School Alma Mater. Read the video transcript here.

SSAIS raises awareness of the detrimental effects on students of DeVos Title IX guidance rescission

In a strongly worded letter to Department of Education Secretary Betsy Devos, the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) opposed “any effort by this administration to repeal, replace, or modify any of Title IX’s regulations or guidance documents” that were open for public comment.

Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS.org), one of 30 national NCWGE member organizations, is spearheading awareness of the potential negative effects on K-12 students of rescinding Title IX-related guidance and any weakening of the Department’s oversight and enforcement role.

The NCWGE is a national nonprofit that educates the public about issues concerning equal rights for women and girls in education. SSAIS contributed to the recent NCWGE publication Title IX at 45: Advancing Opportunity through Equity in Education.

 

We Can’t Wait: Solutions to K-12 Sexual Harassment and Assault

Originally appeared in the Huffington Post

Sexual harassment and assault are forms of sex discrimination and they occur at alarming rates in K-12 schools. Recent reports like “Hidden horror of school sex assaults revealed by AP” and “Ending Sexual Harassment and Assault: Effective Measures Protect All Students” confirm just how rampant these problems are. The attention afforded to transgender students’ rights should also prompt us to broaden our understanding of sex discrimination, a serious problem for all students. Students’ civil rights are violated daily because schools are failing to fulfill their responsibilities under Title IX, a federal civil rights law.

Researchers, national gender equity organizations, and the CDC have provided sufficient data to demonstrate how sexual harassment and assault negatively impact K-12 students. Yet the public remains in the dark because these violations are under-reported by students, who have been forced to normalize sexual harassment, and by schools guarding their reputations. It’s not surprising that national studies show a glaring discrepancy between the small number of schools reporting incidents of sexual harassment and the large number of students saying they experience it.

Sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault are community problems. Research shows that the majority of teenage students have been affected by peer sexual harassment but rarely seek help. Because schools frequently discount or dismiss reports of sexual harassment or assault, students are discouraged from reporting; many of these victims become perpetrators of sexual harassment. By failing to properly address sexual harassment, schools foster a climate where sexual harassment and assault occur. Sexual violence on college campuses and sexual harassment in the workplace occur because students are afforded ample opportunity to practice these behaviors in their formative years.

Title IX prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded educational programs. But few families understand the broad protections the law affords beyond ensuring equal athletic opportunities. After our tenth grader was raped on a high school field trip, we also had no idea that Title IX required the school to take specific actions. The nightmare of sexual assault was exacerbated by the school’s failure to implement Title IX. By the time we learned of our daughter’s rights it was too late for the required prompt and equitable investigation; by then the school district had acquired “alternate facts.” Betrayed by our school, we brought a US Department of Education investigation to the Seattle school district. Using the national attention our case received, we spearheaded a national movement to educate the public about sex discrimination in K-12 schools. From our work with families across the country and national gender equity organizations, we cannot overemphasize the urgent need for Title IX compliance.

With the Trump administration and Department of Education leadership, we cannot expect vigorous Title IX enforcement from the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). Since we can’t count on federal oversight we must compel compliance through community engagement. The solution requires a massive grass roots education effort to inform families, schools, and local organizations about schools’ responsibilities, students’ Title IX rights, and recourses when schools fail, we told the Washington Post last year.

To fill this need, the national nonprofit Stop Sexual Assault in Schools created comprehensive free education for the K-12 audience, Sexual Harassment: Not in Our School! The streaming video and action plan model a collaborative effort where students work alongside parents and community organizations to create Title IX compliant schools. It follows a high school gender equity club strategizing to address sex discrimination, interviewing nationally recognized education, legal, and LGBTQ experts, and learning from counselors, advocates, parents, and peers. In one enlightening scenario, students watch San Francisco Unified’s Title IX Coordinator, attorney Keasara Williams, properly address a parent-actor’s complaint—an important model for Coordinators who remain largely untrained. One student concludes that, “When we make change at school, we’re changing society too.”

When the school and local community implement the recommended actions, they will reduce the traumatic effects of sexual harassment and assault, ensure better outcomes for students, and address behaviors that lead to sexual assault on college campuses and sexual harassment in the workplace. Sex discrimination, in its many manifestations, is the 21st century civil rights issue for students. In these uncertain times, we must arm communities with Title IX education now.

Related:

With Trump’s Title IX stance unknown, video aims to educate about sexual harassment at school

Film takes aim at national K-12 sexual assault, student rights

Sexual Assault: A 21st Century Civil Rights Issue

Sexual violence isn’t just a college problem. It happens in K-12 schools, too.

Read more

Should Parents Know When Their K-12 School is Under Federal Investigation For Mishandling Sexual Assault?

By SSAIS Co-founder and Executive Director Esther Warkov, Ph.D
Originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

cautionU.S. Department of Education (Office for Civil Rights) investigations of K-12 schools for mishandling reported sexual assault are rapidly rising, yet parents rarely know when their child’s school is under investigation. That’s because school districts have little incentive to disclose this information. Recently the media revealed that California’s second largest school district, San Diego Unified, had been under federal scrutiny for violating Title IX since December 2014. A follow-up report entitled “Should San Diego, Carlsbad Schools Have Told Parents About Sex-Assault Investigations?” prompted SSAIS.org to bring this topic to a wider audience.

The question has provoked commentary from national education equity organizations and advocates who say that school districts should inform parents about federal investigations. Senior Vice President for Program at the National Women Law Center, Fatima Goss Graves tweeted: “It’s unfortunate if they [San Diego Unified] did not engage the parent community. Parents and students are key parts of the solution.”

In a report aired on KPBS radio, Title IX expert Jules Irvin-Rooney said, “San Diego Unified and other school districts should see these federal investigations as an opportunity to teach parents and students about Title IX, the anti-discrimination law that requires school districts to protect students at K-12 schools from sexual violence and sexual harassment. At the very least . . . districts should tell their communities that they are the subject of a federal investigation and that they are cooperating with authorities.”

Unfortunately, there are few media reports that inform the public about K-12 sexual assault investigations by the U.S. Department of Education. The report on the investigation of San Diego unified is particularly illuminating for its inclusion of the parents’ complaint and OCR’s resolution letter spelling out its findings.

The parents’ complaint recounted a series of attempts to hold the district accountable after their kindergarten son was sexually assaulted in the bathroom. The OCR resolution letter reveals how the district claimed its zero tolerance for sexual harassment did not apply to elementary schools “because elementary students do not have the relevant mental state for engaging in sexually harassing behavior.” Reports state that the district fired its own investigator, whitewashed the investigation report, blamed other young victims, and supported the principal who had failed to appropriately respond.

San Diego Unified is not an isolated case. In January, The Washington Post reported on an emerging epidemic of civil rights violations in “Sexual violence isn’t just a college problem. It happens in K-12 schools, too.” To raise awareness about students’ rights under Title IX, SSAIS.org spotlights the efforts of education advocates across the country. Community efforts in San Diego and Berkeley, CA, among other locations, demonstrate how advocates must form grassroots movements to address sexual harassment and assault in their own school districts until schools are compelled to become Title IX compliant.

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Parents and Educators Take on Sexual Assault in California’s Second Largest School District

By SSAIS Co-founder and Executive Director Esther Warkov, Ph.D

To raise awareness about students’ rights under Title IX, SSAIS.org spotlights the efforts of education advocates across the country. Earlier we looked at education activists in Berkeley, CA. Here we look at community activism in California’s second largest school district, San Diego Unified.

SD Unified Student Abuse ReportSan Diego Unified School District was recently the subject of media reports describing how the district’s mishandling of sexual assaults warranted an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education (Office for Civil Rights). According to reporter Chris Young who broke the story, the federal investigation occurred after the school failed to appropriately respond to a sexual assault report involving a kindergarten boy in the bathroom. In their complaint, the victim’s parents recounted a series of obstacles that illustrate how school districts avoid following prescribed complaint pathways.

To excuse the district’s failures, the San Diego district claimed that its zero tolerance for sexual harassment did not apply to elementary schools “because elementary students do not have the relevant mental state for engaging in sexually harassing behavior.” Young’s report is exemplary for its inclusion of the OCR resolution letter and links to important background information.

Concerned San Diego educator and parent advocates have created the website District Deeds: Investigating San Diego Unified School District. The website includes media reports, documents illustrating violations of students, and a map showing the schools where assaults occurred. “Despite the large number of assaults on the map, there are considerably more because school police do not report crimes on the campuses, as required by California state laws,” said one educator-advocate, Judy Neufeld-Fernandez.

Undisclosed sexual harassment and violence at San Diego Unified illustrates a serious problem that affects students nationwide. According to Neufeld-Fernandez, “a culture of secrecy in San Diego Unified School District has led to the sexual abuse of students. The betrayal begins with the public’s trust that our schools are safe: the public is unaware that schools are fertile ground for sexual predators. In 2004, the US Department of Education published data stating that nearly 10% of students surveyed report being the victim of sexual molestation at school. Yet only 11% of educators say they would report sex abuse of children. These two statistics are a galvanizing wake-up call for parents. Schools are failing to protect kids and parents must step up their own means of protection. We hear constantly of children in the care of adults being preyed upon in the news. Yet, for each publicized incident, many incidents are suppressed and parents are kept in the dark.”

Social worker and San Diego parent Lucy Wuellner recommends that to “shatter the culture of silence, districts must clearly define the reporting process, include reporting laws and definitions of abuse (adult and peer) in their literature and on their websites. And just as important, teacher and school administrators must fulfill their responsibility as mandatory reporters. A mandated reporter’s responsibility is to report, not to convict. Failure to report should be met with severe consequences e.g. suspension or dismissal.”

San Diego advocates want their district to provide a spectrum of training that ranges from implementing federal safeguards like Title IX to local procedures. Neufeld-Fernandez is concerned that “parents’ pleas to implement low-cost child protection measures were ignored,” and “efforts to introduce and implement a variety of training measures were met with a tepid response. The SDUSD actively dismissed programs found effective elsewhere such as Florida’s Department of Education’s Educator Misconduct program.”

San Diego advocates believe that their district’s pervasive problems must be remedied through a public awareness campaign to bring about culture change. They want an independent agency for investigations of abuse in schools, clarification for teachers and administrators about how organizations like Child Protective Services, District Attorney, San Diego Police and San Diego Unified School Police fit into the constellation of resources serving students. According to Lucy Wuellner, “this will result in a continuum of support rather than cases falling through the agency cracks.” She believes that “turning the culture of silence into a culture of vigilance” (in the words of Charles Wilson, Director of the Chadwick Center for Children and Families) needs to be the community’s war-cry.

The culture of vigilance must extend nationwide. That’s why Stop Sexual Assault in Schools received funding from the American Association of University Women to educate families about students’ right to an education free from sexual harassment, violence, and gender based discrimination under Title IX. Until schools have an incentive to comply with Title IX, students, families, and stakeholders must be proactively engaged to safeguard students’ rights. By so doing, we improve outcomes for K-12 students while addressing the breeding ground for college sexual assault.

Related Reports

Should San Diego, Carlsbad Schools Have Told Parents About Sex-Assault Investigations?

Federal Sex-Assault Investigation Leads To SD Unified Reform; Carlsbad Inquiry Ongoing

Combatting the Epidemic of K-12 Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence

What the White House Asked Us About K-12 Sexual Violence

Read more

What the White House Asked Us About K-12 Sexual Violence

By SSAIS Co-founder and Executive Director Esther Warkov, Ph.D

Originally appeared in the Huffington Post.
whitehouseThe White House VP’s office last month invited four organizations to participate in a discussion of K-12 sexual violence. Everyone present (Stop Sexual Assault in Schools, the American Association of University Women, the National Women’s Law Center, Girls Inc., and the VP’s office) readily acknowledged the gravity of K-12 sexual violence. Yet policymakers and the public remain in the dark. It wasn’t enough that the CDC declared adolescent sexual violence a serious health threat back in 2012. Policymakers—along with the public—haven’t connected the dots: sexual harassment and violence are not isolated events. No, sexual harassment and violence are devastating students’ lives on a daily basis across the country, even in the “best” schools. Students have come to view sexual harassment as normative, and even take blame for sexual assault. Schools routinely downplay or deny reports of sexual misconduct so that students have no incentive to report. Yet, even with limited reporting, the word is slowly getting out. Perhaps it will soon dawn on policymakers—and the public—that college campus assault has its origins in the K-12 breeding ground. 

A significant challenge is how to address this unspeakable topic, one which lawmakers and parents are disinclined to face. The White House representative wondered how K-12 sexual violence could be broached and what research exists to support its impact on students’ education. Whether or not sufficient research has been conducted—or can be conducted—shouldn’t prevent the government from remedying this epidemic: everyone in the field knows that sexual violence is taking down students’ lives at an alarming rate. We also know that schools are notoriously non-compliant with Title IX, a federal civil rights law that guarantees an equal education free from sexual harassment and sexual violence. Schools have no motivation to become Title IX compliant since the penalty for noncompliance—withholding federal funds—is not applied. It will take a plethora of lawsuits alongside public outcry to incentivize schools to protect K-12 students from sexual harassment and violence.

While policymakers turn a blind eye on K-12 sexual violence and schools suppress reports of sexual violence, the media must expose this epidemic. Although we’ve seen reports on a few egregious cases of sexual violence, the media has failed to inform the public about the everyday violations that destroy students’ educations and lives. The Washington Post recently reported on the magnitude of K-12 sexual violence and profiled the SSAIS movement to address it. Yet there are countless cases that should be in the news on a daily basis. Consider, for example, media apathy to a press release concerning multiple rapes in an Indiana school district that earned it a federal investigation: not a single news outlet produced an in-depth report on this alarming case. It’s critically important that the media report — even if only from the victim’s perspective — when other parties refuse to cooperate. These brave K-12 survivors and families deserve the opportunity to educate the public just as college students have raised our awareness of campus sexual violence. We are in the dark ages when it comes to the epidemic of K-12 sexual violence. It is the civil rights issue of today’s youth.

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