U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights Resolves Sexual Harassment Compliance Review of Alpine School District in Utah

2 months ago

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced today that the Alpine School District in Utah has entered into a resolution agreement to ensure the district’s compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 when responding to notice of sexual harassment of its students by other students and employees.

OCR determined that the district discriminated against students based on sex by failing to respond to reports of sexual assault by employees and students or to coordinate its responses to such reports through its Title IX coordinators, among other Title IX violations.

In particular, OCR found that the district failed to investigate or redress employee-to-student and student-to-student sexual assault allegations after they were reported to law enforcement, leaving affected students vulnerable to the discrimination that Title IX prohibits but that law enforcement does not address. Likewise the district did not complete or take required investigative steps in other reported employee-to-student cases and most reported student-to-student sexual assault cases.

Examples of employee-to-student sexual assault allegations for which the district did not fulfill its Title IX obligations include:

  • In 2018, a teacher performed a “sexual act” on a student in the teacher’s classroom immediately after school. After the student told a third party, who reported the incident to law enforcement, law enforcement questioned and arrested the teacher, who later pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. The district allowed this teacher to resign without conducting a Title IX investigation to determine whether this student or other students needed remedies under Title IX, and if so to provide them.
  • In 2019, a former student reported to a district counselor that a teacher had groomed her, inappropriately touched her exposed lower back, kissed her multiple times, and done the same to two other students. After the district interviewed multiple former and current students, the principal described how the teacher: (a) singled out female students and found out if they came from a single parent or distressed home; (b) crossed emotional and physical lines with the female students; (c) promised them specific rewards; and (d) found ways to be alone with them and to kiss them. The principal wrote, “As we investigated we heard the same story again and again. … [I]t was eerie how similar the stories were, even though most ended early with the students transferring or quitting.” After the teacher denied the allegations and blamed the girls for misunderstanding his teaching methods, the teacher retired at the end of the school year. OCR found no evidence that the district provided current students interim measures or investigated to determine if the teacher’s conduct created a hostile environment for current or former students that required redress.
  • In 2017, after a parent complained to the district about an employee who hugged and kissed on the cheek several female elementary school students as they exited the school bus on multiple occasions, the district confirmed through video footage that the employee had hugged and kissed students. Yet, the district produced no evidence that it conducted any interviews, contacted any parents, imposed its recommended disciplinary action, or offered any remedies to the students whom the employee hugged and kissed.

Apart from these employee-to-student incidents, the district involved its Title IX coordinator in only one of 88 reported student-to-student sexual assaults in the 2017-18 through 2019-20 school years. OCR did not find evidence that the district investigated whether the 88 reported incidents had created a hostile environment for the harassed students, as required by Title IX, thus potentially limiting or denying their access to education.

OCR also identified compliance concerns about the district’s responses to off-campus sexual harassment that created a hostile environment for students in school, its training for employees responsible for ensuring its compliance with Title IX, and its recordkeeping system to track incidents of sexual harassment.

As an example of the district’s flawed recordkeeping, OCR notes that the district had reported only one sexual assault for OCR’s 2017-18 Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), whereas the district reported 20 student-to-student sexual assaults during that same year in this compliance review.

The district agreed to resolve the Title IX violations and concerns that OCR identified in a resolution agreement to ensure nondiscrimination on the basis of sex in its schools.

“Alpine School District failed to meet its Title IX obligations to protect students from sexual assaults, including by district employees, and operated a broadly noncompliant system for responding to sex discrimination in its schools,” said Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. “This resolution commits the district now to provide the safe and nondiscriminatory learning environment the district’s more than 81,000 students have deserved.”

The resolution agreement includes:

  • Ensuring that the district coordinates all of its efforts to comply with Title IX through its Title IX coordinator(s) moving forward.
  • Notifying students, parents, and employees of its designated Title IX coordinator(s).
  • Revising Title IX policies and procedures to comply with the Title IX regulations.
  • Disseminating a notice of nondiscrimination that complies with the Title IX regulations.
  • Training employees and students regarding the district’s Title IX procedures, how to identify what constitutes sexual harassment, and how to report such harassment.
  • Reviewing case files for reported incidents of employee-to-student and student-to-student sexual harassment from school years 2017-18 through 2019-20 to determine if further action is needed to provide an equitable resolution of each incident.
  • Improving its record-keeping system to ensure that records about sexual harassment are created and maintained and to report complete and accurate date to the CRDC.
  • Administering school climate surveys to students, parents, and district employees. And,
  • Reporting to OCR on its responses to reports and complaints of sexual harassment during OCR’s monitoring of the resolution agreement.

The letter to Alpine School District is available here, and the resolution agreement here.

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