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Court Backs School District in Title IX Suit

By Mark Walsh — May 12, 2009 1 min read
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A school district was not liable for a teacher’s alleged sexual harassment of a female student, despite some past red flags about the teacher’s behavior, a federal appeals court ruled.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, held that the Mitchell, S.D., school district wasn’t liable under Title IX because no appropriate school official had knowledge of the harassment and the district did not act with deliberate indifference when it learned of the allegations.

The case concerns a high school American government teacher who allegedly took an unusual interest in a female student’s anorexia, asking her to bring pictures of herself in skimpy clothing so he could gauge her condition. The teacher also allegedly caressed the student’s shoulders on occasion and once made a comment about her “knockout body.”

The girl and her parents eventually reported the teacher’s behavior to the district’s superintendent, and the teacher was fired. In a lawsuit raising Title IX and other claims, the family sought to hold the school district responsible for the teacher’s actions.

The suit alleged that two principals who supervised the American government teacher had received reports of sexual harassment by him. But the appeals court said the past complaints were vague, with one parent refusing to provide details such as which teacher he was complaining about.

The court also held that another teacher and a guidance counselor who had received reports about the American government teacher’s harassment were not appropriate persons who had authority to take corrective actions.

“While we in no way condone [the teacher’s] behavior, we find [the student’s] arguments unavailing,” the 8th Circuit court said in Plamp v. Mitchell School District.

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A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.