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Report: Public Schools Ill Equipped to Protect Against Sex Discrimination

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K-12 staff responsible for protecting students from sexual harassment and discrimination have other full-time responsibilities including district superintendent and director of human resources. (Twenty20)
K-12 staff responsible for protecting students from sexual harassment and discrimination have other full-time responsibilities including district superintendent and director of human resources. (Twenty20)
June 11, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. — Public schools face significant challenges protecting students from sexual assault, harassment and discrimination, according to a new University of Colorado study.

Researchers found that key staff responsible for preventing and responding to harassment frequently didn't know it was their job. Elizabeth Meyer, associate professor at CU Boulder and the report's lead author, said if schools are serious about reducing discrimination in the #MeToo era, they need to carve out the time and resources for Title IX coordinators to be effective.

"This is an important opportunity to pay closer attention to what's happening in our public schools, and ensure that students are feeling safe and supported and have a place to turn if they do experience a case of sexual assault or sexual harassment in their schools,” Meyer said.

Title IX is a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on sex in any educational institution that receives federal funds, and coordinators are charged with making sure school districts are in compliance. That includes addressing sexual harassment, ensuring equal access to athletic opportunities and supporting transgender students.

Meyer said coordinators have other full-time jobs, including district superintendent or director of human resources, and most reported spending less than 1 percent of their time on Title IX. The report's recommendations include making sure parents and students can easily find coordinators by listing them prominently on websites and brochures.

Meyer said it's also important for coordinators to keep up-to-date on sex-discrimination and gender-equity issues and to pass that information along.

"To ensure that the district staff and personnel have a deep understanding of what they should be doing to prevent and not just respond to issues of sexual harassment or sex discrimination in their district,” she said.

Most of Meyer's research wrapped up before the Trump administration rescinded two key Title IX policy-guidance documents designed to help coordinators protect transgender students and victims of sexual assault. Meyer said the move has made it even harder to ensure that more students don't join the #MeToo ranks.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - NE