Sexual misconduct: US Sec Devos combats rise in K-12 public schools

In a bid to prevent sexual misconduct in schools, the US Department of Education has announced it will be putting in place stringent measures to enforce Title IX in K-12 schools all across the country.

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said the new Title IX enforcement initiative, led by the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), to combat the troubling rise of sexual assault in K-12 public schools.

According to the Education department, this was necessitated as an attempt to address the increasing rate of staff-on-student and student-on-student sexual misconduct through greater oversight, data collection, and resources for schools and families.

The initiative would also build on the Department’s work to implement the “Pass the Trash” provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which prohibits schools from only moving employees who have committed acts of sexual misconduct.

DeVos said:

We hear all too often about innocent children being sexually assaulted by an adult at school. Through compliance reviews and raising public awareness about what’s happening in too many of our nation’s schools, we can build on the excellent work we’re already doing to enforce Title IX and protect students. We cannot rest until every student can learn in a safe, nurturing environment where their civil rights are protected.

OCR to enforce sexual misconduct act

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus said the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) would conduct compliance checks of schools and districts to review how cases of sexual assault, including those involving staff, are being handled.

Research recently revealed that only four states complied with the new sexual misconduct act, and 39 states had no plans to create a policy requiring compliance because they erroneously believed ESSA’s provision took care of it.

According to the most recent numbers provided by the federal Civil Rights Data Collection, which date back to 2015-16, there were approximately 9,700 reported incidents of sexual assault, rape, or attempted rape in public schools.

More recently, a former top New York City Department of Education official, David Hay, was arrested in December for facilitating child sex abuse.

An investigation concluded earlier this week found holes in the city’s background check system, which was backlogged by more than 6,000 pending checks, allowed Hay’s lies about his disciplinary record to go undetected.

A non-disclosure agreement between Hay and his former district in Wisconsin also shielded prior sexual misconduct.

Title IX requirement

Title IX requires that schools and districts take appropriate steps to address sex discrimination. The requirements of Title IX apply to incidents of sexual misconduct, including events that involve both student-on-student misconduct and staff-on-student misconduct.

This new Title IX enforcement initiative to combat sexual violence in K-12 schools is the second nationwide initiative launched in OCR in the last 13 months. Secretary DeVos explained it address the possible inappropriate use of restraint and seclusion on children with disabilities.

Currently, OCR is actively investigating compliance reviews in all 12 of OCR’s regional offices and is continuing to provide technical assistance to stakeholders and other groups.

OCR has engaged with more than 350 school districts to ensure that restraint and seclusion data are accurate and correctly reported to OCR.