O.C.R. May Review Boy-on-Boy Sexual-Harassment Case

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The Education Department's office for civil rights may take up a novel sexual-harassment case that it refused to pursue last year.

In what may be the first boy-on-boy sexual-harassment case brought to the attention of authorities, the O.C.R.'s Chicago regional office originally decided that a Rice, Minn., boy's mistreatment by his male grade school peers did not constitute sexual harassment.

Jonathan Harms, was 9 and in the 3rd grade when he said his classmates began taunting him with sexually explicit references three years ago. The conduct continued until his parents pulled him from the school in the 4th grade, according to Judi Harms, his mother.

In June 1991, Kenneth A. Mines, the director of the Chicago regional office, said in a letter to the boy's parents that "the behavior described does not constitute sexual harassment under the circumstances of this case because there is no indication that [Jonathan] was singled out for harassment because of his sex."

The Harms family appealed for help from state officials and U.S. Sen. Dave Durenberger, R-Minn.

The Minnesota Department of Human Resources ruled in September that the Sauk Rapids-Rice School District #47 "did not take prompt and appropriate action ... to stop the sexually harassing behavior directed at [Mr. Harms] for nearly two years." State and district officials are negotiating a settlement.

On the federal level, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Norma V. Cantu said in an Oct. 17 letter to Mr. Durenberger that the decision of the regional office "was based on a reasonable interpretation of the law at that time," and that the O.C.R. has not issued any guidance on sexual-harassment issues.

However, Ms. Cantu said, "it seems clear that O.C.R. would now conclude that there is sufficient legal support to permit investigation of this type of complaint."

She said the family could refile its O.C.R. complaint "in the event it disagrees with the state's finding and/or believe that the alleged discrimination was not fully remedied."

Ms. Harms said she is confused by Ms. Cantu's letter.

"Where this leaves us, I just don't know," she said.

--Mark Pitsch

Vol. 14, Issue 10

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