SUPTS. MEMO. NO. 119
June 11, 1999
|FROM:||Paul D. Stapleton
Superintendent of Public Instruction
|SUBJECT:||U.S. Supreme Court Decision on School Liability or Student-on-Student Sexual Harassment|
On May 24, 1999 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that school divisions may be liable for suit under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 for cases involving student- on-student sexual harassment. The majority ruling for the case, Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, explained that liability exists if school division personnel were "deliberately indifferent" to information received and known about "severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive" student-on-student harassment. Schools may have to pay for damages and services for victims if student-on-student sexual harassment has created a hostile environment that interferes with the victim's ability to benefit from school programs, if educators are aware of it and have not taken immediate and appropriate corrective action. Title IX protects students in the context of all academic programs as well as extra curricular, athletic, or other school-sponsored programs, regardless of location. Title IX includes student-on-student sexual harassment in schools as a subject of discrimination complaints. The Office for Civil Rights has issued guidance about sexual harassment, including criteria, examples, suggested prevention, investigation, resolution procedures, and case references in the Federal Register, Volume 62, Number 49, dated March 13, 1997. The title is Office for Civil Rights: Sexual Harassment Guidance: Harassment of Students by School Employees, Other Students, or Third Parties. The booklet provides definitions and considerations for "hostile environment sexual harassment of a student or students," that include the following: 1.the degree to which the conduct has interfered with a student's ability to benefit from and participate in the educational environment; 2.the existence of a pattern of harassment in a serious manner for a sustained period; 3.the identity of the alleged harasser and the relationship with the persons being harassed; 4.the number or individuals involved; 5.the age and sex of the alleged harasser and the individual or individuals being harassed; and 6.the size of the school and the location and context of the incidents. Title IX also requires schools to adopt policies against sex discrimination and develop and implement grievance procedures addressing resolution of complaints. The Federal Register guidelines suggest having a separate policy and grievance procedure that specifically prohibits and addresses sexual harassment. In light of this recent court decision, you may want to review your division's policies and procedures. The Department has several documents that provide guidance and technical assistance. Copies of the March 1997 volume of the Federal Register were sent to every division superintendent. In addition, during the first part of 1999 the Office for Civil Rights provided a handbook for schools entitled Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crime to every Virginia school division. The guide provides practical, steps for identifying and addressing harassment, including developing a comprehensive anti-harassment policy; establishing formal complaint procedures; and developing crisis intervention plans. Every school division should have a copy. If your division needs an additional handbook, you may contact Diana Taylor in Accountability Services at (804) 225-2038. A copy of the opinion is attached. If you have any questions, please contact Diane Atkinson, assistant superintendent for policy and public affairs, at (804) 225-2403 or Tom Shortt, assistant superintendent for accountability, at (804)786-9421. PDS/cc Enclosure: A hard copy of this memeo and its attachment will be sent to the superintendent's office.