Sexual Harassment and Title IX
Under Title IX, all public schools and some private schools that receive federal funding have an obligation to investigate complaints of sexual harassment or abuse that occur at school, or school related functions. This includes allegations of sexual violence. Even if law enforcement investigates a complaint of sexual violence, a district is still obligated to conduct an investigation, independent of law enforcement.
Statistics and 'Passing the Trash'
A Department of Education Report, entitled “Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature”, estimates that approximately 9.6% or 4.5 million children in K-12 are sexually abused or harassed by a school employee at some point during their school career. This year, since January 1, 2014 more than 300 teachers have been arrested for some sort of sexual misconduct involving students.
While we may like to think Districts will protect our kids I'm not sure it’s always wise to trust they all will be ethical when deciding between protecting a child vs. their teachers and own cherished reputations. In some districts deals are made with the offending teacher, they are asked to resign in exchange for a good recommendation and no reporting to authorities. The unethical and illegal practice is referred to as “Passing the Trash”.
Before having children, I worked as a probation and parole agent and supervised sex offenders. I supervised a few teachers convicted of sexually abusing students, but one situation in particular was extremely troubling. The teacher was convicted of sexually abusing boys at an elementary school; he abused a child at one school, left the district and went on to abuse at another school. The mother of one of the victims felt the school knew the teacher had abused her son but did not report the abuse; just allowed the teacher to leave the district. At the time, I didn’t realize how widespread this practice was, or how unethically some schools handle these issues.
I've known the signs of grooming behavior for years, it's always in the back of my mind, I try to be a vigilant mom, and I work very hard at not becoming a paranoid mom. I try to not allow my knowledge of sexual abuse to cloud what may be the reality of a situation. However, my life experience has taught me some situations are deserving of a closer look, and anyone is capable of anything.
It Happened to My Family
My daughter is one of the millions of children sexually harassed at school; my family is part of a statistic. I believe that she and many girls in the Croswell-Lexington Community School District were being sexually groomed and harassed by a teacher. Thankfully, she came home and told me. I realized from what she said this may be sexual grooming and my husband and I got involved.
When my daughter was in Kindergarten she came home and told me she had sat in the lap of a male teacher and he tickled her and the other kids in class tickled her I felt my heart sink. I had an older child at the elementary school that had this teacher so I've heard the name before. I asked him if he ever sat in any teacher’s lap, he denied this but brought up the name of the same teacher stating he often encouraged female classmates to sit in his lap. Later, during an interview with Croswell Police, my daughter would allege the teacher was tickling her on the chest while she sat in his lap. This person taught at two elementary schools in the district. He was never charged with a crime so I can’t name him or identify the class he taught.
My husband and I felt this situation needed to be discussed with the principal. I’m not sure I would recommend alerting the school first, had I to do it over again I would take my child to police.
The School District's Response, or Lack Thereof
I made an appointment with the Frostick Elementary principal the next morning, and I went by myself. If I ever have to meet face to face with the District for a meeting again I would take a spouse, friend, someone with me, just so there is witness. When I met with the principal, she appeared unconcerned when I repeated what both my children had shared, and did not feel the need to take a statement from me, talk with my kids or refer me anywhere.
I told her I had supervised sex offenders and I felt this behavior had red flags. The principal still did not appear concerned and I left feeling dissatisfied. She was a newer principal, and this was her first year managing the elementary school alone; I wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt she would take this seriously; I wanted to be fair and give her the chance to do her job.
When I had not heard from the principal a few hours later, I began to call other parents I knew with children in the district. Out of six children only one child had never seen girls sit in the teacher’s lap. Three boys told their moms they had seen female classmates sit in this teacher’s lap. Two other girls, both in first grade, had apparently sat in the teacher’s lap. One of the girls reported she did not want to sit in his lap and when she tried to get away he held her there.
I spoke with the Director of Curriculum the next morning, the Superintendent was out of town and she was in charge. Apparently, she was the Title IX coordinator for the District but never identified herself as such. I voiced my concerns, gave her information about each parent and their individual situations. She told me it would be handled, but due to confidentially we would not know how the teacher was disciplined. The other mothers eventually contacted me to say the building principal had contacted them, were promised the behavior would stop, and no one wanted to meet with them or take a statement. All of the involved parents have alleged the district did not refer us to law enforcement, the district denies this.
The District and I have very different stories alleging what happened, but they never took statements from parents, and never advised us of our rights. While nothing criminal was found by Law Enforcement we were concerned with how the District had handled this. Prior to meeting with administration, I emailed the school Superintendent and asked for District policy governing how these issues were handled. The Superintendent responded, “If you are looking for specific board policies and procedures to cover the situation we are discussing there are none.
When we met with the District administrators, they promised us the teacher had been disciplined and they were monitoring his classes. I brought up multiple times they needed to have more policy in place to better address these issues, and felt ignored. I really didn't believe what I was being told, but not knowing my rights and since nothing criminal was found, my husband and the other families were pressuring me to step back and let the school handle the issue. I knew better than to walk away from this when I did. I'm still disappointed in myself that I backed down; I let others pressure me into allowing the District to handle the problems even though it still didn't feel right.
And Then It Happened Again
Just four months later, the same teacher would be investigated again. According to the police report, school staff witnessed similar behavior. While working at Meyer Elementary, he was observed rubbing a Kindergarten and First grade girl across the chest. Staff indicated this happened frequently, but when one of them observed him placing his hand between the legs of a girl this group of four school staff decided they needed to report his behavior. As this situation was being investigated, the teacher retired from the district. He was never charged, so there have been few consequences. It’s my understanding he no longer has his teaching certificate and works in retail. I won’t shop where I was told he works, I don’t want the hassle of running into him and what may result from such an encounter. He has more rights than my daughter or any of these girls. Our school district has never openly acknowledged what occurred; I don’t believe many parents know of the situation or that they may want to talk to their children.
Ultimately, I addressed the school board regarding my concerns over how this was handled and asked for a private meeting with the District Board of Education to further discuss the need for policy change. A few days later the Superintendent emailed me only to tell me the District had adequate policy and the board would not meet with me! I had finally received the school’s sexual harassment policy though. They did have more policy as I suspected, and they did not come close to following it throughout this situation. At that time, I learned about Title IX and filed a complaint with the Department of Education.
The System is Not Perfect, Probably Never Will Be
I would like to say that fixed the problem, but no. Filing a complaint is a long process, in my case it took nine months and left me with more questions than answers. The District entered into a resolution agreement with OCR, it was found they did not have adequate procedures to respond to complaints of sexual harassment and have since adopted new sexual harassment policy. I don’t feel it was a thorough investigation or that parents were allowed adequate rebuttal opportunities. The behavior occurring at Meyer Elementary was never addressed, and they felt this was only an issue of children sitting in the teacher’s lap; not sexual harassment. I see a pattern of sexual grooming and feel the OCR missed or ignored this. Because the District had agreed to settle out of court with my family I could not appeal the decision.
While filing a complaint is an option, I would never suggest it be the only course you take. Since Title IX was passed in 1972, the Department of Education has done a poor job of providing guidance and ensuring schools are compliant with having adequate policy in place. Consequently, Districts may be lax in having and enforcing policy. I would strongly encourage you to take a long look at your District’s policy. If your District has adequate sexual harassment policy under Title IX, congratulations because I have not seen many that do. It has been suggested, OCR has been a non-entity in helping keep kids safe at school and after my experience, I agree.
My goal at this time is to write a second post to address in greater detail my experience with the Department of Education (DE) and some of the shortcomings I see from a parent perspective. We all need to be concerned with the policies that should protect our children. I plan to start addressing some of the policy issues in my own county as well. I have been organizing parents and have the support of some of the organizations I mention next in this post; hopefully we can start to make a difference for the children in the community.
Resources/ Spotting the Warning Signs
Everyone can do something to help prevent sexual abuse! It’s important to educate yourself on the pandemic of sexual abuse. Start with your own children; educate them on body safety, the Mama Bear Effect and Dream Catchers for Abused Children both have helpful resources.
Support Erin’s Law, the Department of Education recommends that all students receive age- appropriate sexual abuse prevention education but does not set precedence on how often this should occur they leave it to the Districts to decide. Under Erin’s Law, schools would be required to provide this important education to K-12 yearly.
I would strongly encourage you to read the book “Passing the Trash: A Parent’s Guide to Combat Sexual Abuse/Harassment of Their Children in School”, by Charles Hobson.
Stop Educator Sexual Abuse, Misconduct and Exploitation, Inc. SESAME advocates for students and families by offering support and access to information. They increase awareness of educator sexual abuse and insist upon policy to reduce the occurrences of abuse at school. SESAME also advocates for state and federal laws as a way to combat the instances of educator sexual abuse.
If you feel you need some help, or if you have questions about your District’s policy my name is Michelle and you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org I’m not an expert but I would be willing to offer advice, just please keep in mind I am not an attorney, and there is no substitute for finding a competent attorney. I’m also interested in hearing your stories, and about the sexual harassment policy your school does or does not have in place. If we don’t bring awareness to these problems they will never get any better.
We can all make differences in preventing sexual abuse and if we work together we can accomplish so much more! Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I hope this information is helpful to you and assists in keeping your children better protected at school and in the community from sexual harassment and abuse.
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