From guest blogger Nirvi Shah:
A Texas school district violated the federal Title IX law when it sent a student who alleged rape by a classmate and her attacker to the same alternative school, the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights has found.
The ACLU of Texas filed a complaint with the OCR on behalf of the student, Rachel Bradshaw, saying that the 3,500-student Henderson Independent School District violated her rights under Title IX. The ACLU argued that the district created a hostile environment that deprived Bradshaw of equal educational opportunity. Bradshaw has given permission for her name to be disclosed.
Last year, the civil rights office stressed colleges and schools’ obligations to investigate incidents of sexual harassment and violence under Title IX. And OCR’s decision comes the same month as Title IX’s 40th anniversary.
In a letter this month, OCR said the district must change its Title IX policies in the future and train staff about how to respond to cases of sexual harassment and violence, among other measures.
When Bradshaw first reported the sexual assault to an Henderson High School assistant band director in late 2010—she was 17 at the time—neither the police or school officials were notified. The girl told another assistant band director about the incident two days later, and both the police and school administrators were notified. Eventually, the local police department determined that the sex was consensual, and both Bradshaw and the other student were found to have violated the school district’s code of conduct for public lewdness. The district didn’t conduct its own investigation as it should have, OCR said, violating Title IX.
Bradshaw, a senior in high school during the incident, maintains she was raped and encourages others to report sexual assault despite her experiences.
Bradshaw and the other student were sent to the same alternative school for 45 days as punishment, a decision the school made just a week after the alleged rape occurred. OCR said it found that the rapid decision about the girl’s transfer was an act of retaliation against her.
She told OCR investigators she saw her alleged attacker every day at the alternative school, although staff at the school disagreed.
Now, her discipline record must be wiped clean of the episode, the OCR said, and the Henderson district must take a number of steps to ensure future compliance with Title IX.
Those include revising district policies about discrimination and sexual harassment and submitting them for OCR review, providing mandatory annual training for school district staff for at least two years, and designating a counselor at each school to be on call for sexual-harassment victims.
“It’s great to know that because I spoke out, the school district will completely change the way it responds to sexual abuse, including training all of the people who work there about sexual violence and harassment,” Bradshaw said in a statement. “I can’t erase what happened in the past, but what’s important now is making sure that other students don’t get hurt in the same way in the future. I got back my rights after they were taken away from me.”
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.