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Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is a pressing concern in many areas of our society, especially in our public schools. This article sheds light on what constitutes sexual harassment. It also addresses how it affects the educational setting, the legal aspects related to it, and provides guidance on getting help if one is affected by this form of misconduct. Everyone deserves equal opportunities to learn, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program or activity. In a school setting, potential harassers can be a teacher or school employee. They can also be other students. The line is sometimes blurred about what makes up sexual harassment, but the courts are often quick to determine whether a student's rights have been violated.

This section provides information and resources on sexual harassment. It includes information on sex discrimination and Title IX. Find frequently asked questions about sexual harassment. Learn about liability under Title IX and claims by student-athletes and coaches. Choose from the links below to learn more.

Sexual Harassment: What Is It?

Sexual harassment is any unwanted behavior of a sexual nature. This behavior makes someone feel uncomfortable, threatened, or discriminated against. There are several forms of sexual harassment. Behavior can include comments, gestures, pictures, or physical contact. 

It's not just about what one person thinks is harmless; it's about how the recipient (the complainant) feels. Sexual harassment can affect anyone, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. It can be between a student and another student, a staff member and a student, or between staff members.

In a federal context, sexual violence includes both sexual harassment and sexual assault. These are all forms of sexual discrimination. There are different kinds of sexual harassment claims. Quid pro quo is a type of sexual harassment. It occurs when a supervisor or other individual in authority exchanges sexual favors. They may do this for advantages or to avoid disadvantages in the workplace. This creates a hostile work environment.

Sexual harassment discrimination complaints involve the presence of demeaning or sexual imagery. It also includes threats or jokes that are pervasive. These actions create an intimidating and offensive workplace or school environment.

Sexual Harassment at School

Every student has the right to learn in an environment free from sexual harassment. This was further established in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999). In this case, the court held sexual harassment endured by a student impacted her grades and made her afraid to enter certain areas of the school. This amounted to a violation of her Title IX equal protection rights.

Schools, whether it's a high school, secondary school, or any other educational institution, have a duty to ensure that sexual harassment is not allowed. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law. This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. It is outlawed in educational settings that receive federal financial assistance. If a school district allows a hostile environment to persist, it risks losing federal funds.

When complaints of sexual harassment arise, the school must start a grievance process. This often involves a Title IX coordinator. Schools are also required to have a clear sexual harassment policy and a compliance process in place.

Title IX Claims by Student-Athletes and Coaches

Athletic programs are not immune to the challenges of sexual misconduct. Student-athletes and coaches can be both victims and perpetrators of sexual harassment. Title IX regulations aim to ensure that both male and female students have equal opportunities in sports, including enrollment and other educational opportunities. Allegations of sexual harassment within sports can jeopardize these opportunities. 

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), a part of the U.S. Department of Education, is responsible for handling Title IX complaints. They ensure nondiscrimination in schools and make sure that all students, including athletes, get the protection they deserve.

Both student-athletes and coaches have asserted Title IX claims of sexual harassment in the context of school sports. Student-athletes, like other students, must establish that they were harassed, that both they and their harasser were under the authority of the institution, that the institution was aware of the harassment, and that the harassment was serious enough to have the systemic effect of denying the victim equal access to participate in the athletic program. 

Claims by coaches under Title IX are more frequently related to hiring, pay, and promotion, but if sexual harassment occurs on the job, they may also have an actionable claim.

What To Do if You've Been Sexually Harassed at School

If you or your child has been sexually harassed at school, it can be an emotionally taxing experience. However, it's crucial to know your rights and the steps to take to ensure justice and protection. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you navigate this challenging situation:

  1. Speak up immediately: Don't stay silent. It's essential to let someone know about the harassment as soon as it happens. This can be a trusted teacher, school counselor, or any staff member.
  2. Document everything: Write down the details of each incident. Include the dates, times, locations, and the people involved. This will be vital to your case in the future.
  3. Know the school's complaint procedures: Familiarize yourself with your school's procedures for filing complaints of sexual harassment. This information is typically found in the school's handbook or website. You can also check the student code of conduct.
  4. Contact the Title IX coordinator: Every school receiving federal financial assistance has a Title IX coordinator. Get their contact information and approach them with your concerns. They have legal obligations to ensure the school addresses the issue.
  5. File a formal complaint: Using the details you've documented, submit a formal complaint to your school. Ensure that your complaint is detailed and provides a clear account of the harassment you've faced.
  6. Secure your safety: If you feel threatened or unsafe, seek interim measures. Schools can offer accommodations like changing class schedules or obtaining protective orders against the respondent.
  7. Seek legal advice: Depending on the severity of your situation, you might want to consult with a legal professional. They can guide you through the school complaint procedures and potential legal avenues under federal and state law.

Getting Legal Help With Sexual Harassment Claims

If you or someone you know is facing sexual harassment in school, it's crucial to know your rights and get help. Speak to a trusted school official or the Title IX coordinator to file a formal complaint. If the school doesn't address the issue properly, the Office for Civil Rights can step in. Remember, Title IX is a federal civil rights law. State laws can offer more protections.

Legal professionals can give victims helpful legal advice to navigate this process. They can help you understand your rights, the complaint process, and potential interim measures or disciplinary action that schools might take. An attorney will guide you through any grievance procedures. Talk to an education law attorney about your legal issue today.

Click on a link below to learn more about sexual harassment in schools.

Learn About Sexual Harassment

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

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