A third of 96 school districts in the San Francisco Bay Area that responded to requests for public information did not identify a Title IX coordinator in their district — something they are required to have by law.
That law — Title IX — has been on the books for more than 43 years and is in headlines today because of mounting complaints about sexual assaults and harassment on college campuses. “What the heck is happening at K through 12,” and how is that contributing to this epidemic of sexual assaults in colleges, Noreen Farrell of Equal Rights Advocates wondered at a focus group that met today.
Her non-profit legal organization requested information from 116 Bay Area school districts under the Public Records Act after a damning 2012 investigation by NBC News found an astounding ignorance among 200 principles in 25 Bay Area school districts about their Title IX responsibilities. None of 35 principles contacted by NBC, for example, could name the district’s Title IX coordinator.
The findings in Equal Rights Advocates’ new report, Ending Harassment Now: Keeping Our Kids Safe at School, are damning as well. Of the 116 school districts they contacted, 20 (17%) didn’t even respond. Of the 96 that did, one third did not identify a Title IX coordinator. Roughly half (51) of the districts showed that they distribute a non-discrimination policy to teachers and staff, as required by Title IX. Only 28% of the district policies that were reviewed included specific protections for student victims of sexual violence. And that’s in the Bay Area, which has a reputation for being ahead of the country when it comes to civil rights.
This is one day after the Association of American Universities released its Campus Climate Survey 2015 reporting that 23% of female college undergraduates had experienced sexual assault or misconduct, findings that support similar results from multiple previous surveys. The San Francisco Chronicle today published two Title IX-related articles: “University students divided over sexual consent policy’s effectiveness,” and “Agreement would improve campus sex assault reporting, aid.”
Yet for all the recent publicity about college sexual assaults, many people still think of Title IX only in relation to athletics, and even people who are attuned to women’s rights often don’t know that the law includes protections against sexual assault and harassment in schools and colleges. Even at the focus group that I attended today, organized by Equal Rights Advocates, a surprising number of the participants (mostly lawyers, some of them parents) said they only recently had learned that sexual assault and harassment are Title IX issues. If a school knows about a hostile environment conducive to sexual harassment or gender-based bullying, or reasonably should know about it, and fails to take prompt and effective steps to end the bad behavior, prevent its recurrence, and address its effects, that school is violating a student’s Title IX civil rights — the idea being that the effects of sexual harassment make it nearly impossible for victims to have an equal opportunity to get an education.
The new Equal Rights Advocates report is a local snapshot of what seems to be a national problem, and the group is hoping it will have a national impact. One idea that came up at the focus group is sort of a “one person, one school” initiative in which any individual could use the report’s recommendations to push one school to fully implement Title IX. The report lists concrete steps that individuals, schools, and governments can take to prevent or address sexual harassment at any school. Today’s elementary school students are tomorrow’s high schoolers, and tomorrow’s college students, and every student deserves protection today.