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Title IX & Student Conduct Code Blog

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Title IX Sexual Assault Investigations are Growing in U.S. High Schools and Middle Schools

When you think of Title IX protections against sexual assault and harassment, you may think of the many headlines you’ve seen regarding sexual misconduct on college and university campuses across the U.S. in recent years. However, Title IX also protects younger students at federally-funded schools, including high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. Sexual misconduct can occur at lower-level schools just as it can on college campuses and the number of investigations regarding younger victims of misconduct is increasing.

More Students are Coming Forward

Earlier this year, we discussed the #MeTooK12 hashtag introduced and encouraged by the nonprofit, Stop Sexual Assault in Schools (SSAIS). This movement is a reflection of the #MeToo movement largely involving adults or young adults speaking out against sexual harassment and assault in higher education and in workplaces. The K-12 movement is an acknowledgment that this type of sexual misconduct also happens among younger students and that they should not be afraid to speak out either.

Something seems to be changing, as reports indicate that the Associated Press recently uncovered about 17,000 sexual assault reports at U.S. schools – a number which may be quite low due to student fears of reporting assaults. In any event, the pressure on schools to properly investigate and handle these situations is mounting. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights show that in 2017, 137 school districts were under investigation across 37 states and the District of Columbia, regarding 154 complaints of sexual misconduct in K-12 schools.

Schools May Not Handle Title IX Complaints Properly

Many middle schools and high schools have spent years trying to sweep sexual misconduct allegations under the rug. Unlike many colleges and universities, lower schools may not have a specific liaison handling sexual misconduct and other Title IX complaints, enacting school policies, and taking other steps to preserve the rights of students.

Districts may not have the tools and procedures in place to conduct a thorough and fair investigation and take measures to ensure that all students involved are protected and feel safe. Not only does Title IX protect against harassment and assault itself, but it also protects students from having to attend class in a hostile environment, which can include sitting in the same room as the other party in the case. Middle and high schools should have policies in place to fairly handle complaints and investigations all the way through a proper resolution of the matter.

Protecting ALL Students

Students that report Title IX violations are not the only ones who should be protected by the school. Federal policy requires that neither student – the complainant or respondent – should be discriminated against during the investigation and disciplinary process. Schools cannot simply jump to conclusions that a complaint is truthful and punish or expel the other student without due process. All students involved should be protected and their rights under Title IX respected.

If your child is involved in a Title IX complaint in middle school or high school, there is a serious possibility the school may not handle the matter in a manner that is fair to your child. It is strongly recommended that you seek guidance and representation from an experienced Title IX attorney as soon as possible for help throughout your case. If a school mishandled a prior complaint, you should always discuss your options for recourse with a law firm that regularly handles this type of case.

Title IX cases are extremely complex from nearly every standpoint and can be particularly sensitive matters when they involve younger children. Many attorneys do not fully understand the rights of all parties in a Title IX action and may not know how to fully protect your rights or the rights of your child. If you need help with a Title IX matter, please contact the experienced  Title IX attorneys at Duffy Law. Call the office at 203-946-2000 or contact us online to discuss your situation today.

Felice Duffy

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Attorney At Duffy Law

Attorney Felice Duffy served as an Assistant United States Attorney for ten years after beginning her legal career at two prestigious firms (one in CT and one in NY) and then clerking for two federal judges. A life-long Title IX advocate, she brought a legal action under the then-new Title IX statute against UCONN while an undergraduate to compel the creation of its women’s varsity soccer program. She went on to become a first-team Division I All-American, was selected to be on the first U.S. National Women’s Team, and spent 10 years as Head Coach of the Yale women's soccer team. Attorney Duffy has Ph.D. in Education/Sports Psychology and has spoken to, and conducted trainings for, over 50 schools and organizations on a wide range of topics involving athletics, the law, and social justice. You can reach Felice at (203) 946-2000.