Recent stories in the local and national news have raised serious questions about schools and their responses to reports of violence between students. Those stories, as well as the ones that never make the news, illustrate the need to be aware of schools’ policies before an incident takes place. Since April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, we thought we’d take this opportunity to remind you that students have rights when it comes to sexual assault or harassment at school.
Many of us think of Title IX in terms of college athletics for women. But what you may not realize is that it extends protection against discrimination on the basis of sex for students at any school that receives federal funds. This includes most public elementary and secondary schools as well as colleges, and considers sexual harassment and assault to be forms of discrimination.
That means that a school has certain responsibilities if they learn about an incident of sexual assault or harassment. According to the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights:
- The school is responsible for responding promptly and effectively.
- The school must investigate and take appropriate steps, even if the student or their parents don’t request that the school take any action.
- A criminal investigation does not replace the school’s duty to resolve complaints under Title IX.
If you’ve been the victim of sexual assault or harassment, what are your rights?
- You have the right to present your case and have your complaint investigated.
- You have the right to be notified of the timeframe for the investigation into your complaint.
- You have the right for the complaint to be decided using a preponderance of the evidence standards (i.e., it is more likely than not that an incident occurred – this is MUCH different than the evidentiary standards by which law enforcement would decide to proceed, which is why a separate investigation by the school is important).
- You have the right to be notified in writing of the outcome of the complaint – the school has to disclose information about any sanction on the perpetrator that directly relates to the complaint.
As a parent, it’s important to be aware of these rights and to ask questions about your child’s school’s policies with regard to handling reports of sexual assault.
Much more information is available online through the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
REACH is here as a community resource if you need help in starting these conversations in your school or community. Contact us for more information.