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Student Sexual Assault—Do Your Educators Know How to Respond?

Kacie Kefgen

By Kacie Kefgen, MASB Assistant Director of Labor Relations and Legal Services

DashBoard, April 8, 2015

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. With recent national headlines involving student sexual assault, awareness of the problem may not be the most valuable part of the designation. Instead, this month’s efforts may be a great opportunity to help caring adults get up to speed about what to do about sexual violence.

Take this situation:

A third grade student confides in a school cafeteria employee that an older student touched him in an inappropriate way when they were in the bathroom together. The employee reports what the boy said to the school principal.

What should the principal do?

A – Wait for the boy or his parents to report that something happened

B – Call the boy’s parents

C – Ask the boy’s teacher to ask him about the situation

D – Report the situation to the Title IX Coordinator

E – Call the police

F – B, D and E

A boy in this situation may be like one of the 5 percent of boys and 12 percent of girls who reported that they have been forced into sex acts at some time in their lives before graduating from high school.1 While caring adults cannot be everywhere at every moment at school or at home to protect children, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has recently stepped up efforts to enforce Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual violence. These efforts are prompting many school districts around the country to reexamine their policies and procedures to ensure alignment with OCR expectations. If your district’s principals would know to answer F above, you are probably on the right track, but there may be more work to do to protect students and align yourself with OCR.

Here’s another scenario:

A freshman girl tells her sixth-hour teacher that a male classmate sexually assaulted her at a friend’s house over the weekend, and she feels afraid to be in the same room with him. She asks the teacher not to tell anyone about what happened because she’s worried everyone else will think she is making the whole thing up.

Should the teacher:

A – Not tell anyone else and check in with the student frequently to see how she’s coping

B – Not tell anyone else and move the students away from each other in class

C – Not tell anyone else, but ask other students to find out if there might be anything to what she reported

D – Report the allegation to the school Title IX Coordinator

The teacher in this situation would be required to report the allegation to the Title IX Coordinator, even if the student begs the teacher not to tell anyone else. A school must take steps to protect the student’s confidentiality, but that concern for confidentiality cannot extend so far as to not report the situation to the Title IX Coordinator. For more guidance from OCR, please visit the department’s website.

The requirements for how school investigations must occur and the steps needed to protect victims are too extensive to be discussed fully here, but it is important to highlight that investigations must be prompt and cannot simply be left to law enforcement.2

Depending on your district’s experience and resources, you may need significant assistance in training your staff or putting good procedures in place. Please do not hesitate to contact MASB to let us know of your needs, so that we can assist you and other districts with the types of resources that are most helpful.

If you would like more information about this or other legal topics, please feel free to contact me at kkefgen@masb.org or 517.327.5914.

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1 www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/SV-DataSheet-a.pdf

2 www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201104.html