Last year, we discovered that Seattle Public Schools was under federal investigation for racial disparities in the school district's disciplinary practices. As Al Jazeera America reports this week, Seattle Public Schools is also one of the 23 school districts the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights is investigating for Title IX violations related to sexual assault.
“I expected the school to say, ‘Something went terribly wrong, and we’re going to get to the bottom of it,’” Emily’s father said. “But that never happened.”
Under Title IX, a school must conduct a prompt investigation into any report of sexual assault and determine whether it is “more likely than not” that it happened—a completely separate process from a criminal investigation, with a much lower burden of proof. In its policy, Seattle Public Schools says it will respond to reports within 30 days.
But the district didn’t begin to investigate the incident with Emily until six months after the alleged incident and only at the parents’ insistence, records and emails show. It took 14 months for the district to conclude that there was “insufficient evidence” that she was a “victim of harassment.”
Title IX also requires the investigation to be “equitable.” But the Millers said it was so deeply skewed that the district was essentially an advocate for the boy.
A June 2013 draft of the district’s report (a final one was never prepared) didn’t include Emily’s side of the story at all...
The parents, in this case, went into debt treating their daughter's resulting mental health issues and eventually moved away from Seattle. The district has answered very few questions about the case. At least one school board member, according to e-mails obtained by Al Jazeera, seems to have found the district's response to these parents problematic.
Title IX's prohibitions against sex discrimination in education include specific requirements for addressing complaints of sexual assault and harassment—and Gordon writes that, based on school records and e-mails, it appears SPS administration didn't understand Title IX's application in this case. Horrible errors like that not only create an unsafe learning environment for students, they also open up the (already under-funded) district to costly litigation. We'll see what happens when the federal Title IX report comes out. But the district had better get their act together: As Gordon reports, there were at least 47 student victims of a "sexual offense" at SPS in the last school year.